I don’t know what it is, but something about this book totally appealed to me. One would think I’d have had enough of elves and dwarves and orcs by now, but then I tried to remember the last time I read a Young Adult novel set in a world like this, and it actually made me realized just how refreshingly different it is from the sort of YA I’ve been reading lately. It’s free of a lot of the usual tropes, anyway. Plus, something about the storytelling just gives off this down-to-earth and easygoing vibe. It feels like the author wrote this book from his heart, to have fun, not to hit up all the items on some imaginary checklist of what makes a YA novel successful. In fact, I read somewhere that The Novice began life as a personal NaNoWriMo project, and that doesn’t surprise me at all.
The story follows Fletcher, an orphan raised by a village blacksmith after he was found as a baby abandoned in the snow. One day, on the cusp of Fletcher’s sixteenth birthday, a chance encounter with a veteran soldier at the market left him in possession of an old scroll. And like all curious teenage boys, Fletcher just couldn’t resist reading it, and in doing so he unleashes a demon from the Ether. But it’s not as ominous as it sounds! The demon – a cute little imp-like creature that shoots fire – is a Salamander that quickly bonds to Fletcher and becomes his loyal companion.
However, Fletcher’s summoning of the demon does reveal him to be a mage. And with the war going on with the orcs, the army needs all the summoners they can get their hands on, noble-born or commoner; elf, dwarf or human. On the run for a crime he didn’t commit, that’s how Fletcher ends up at the Adept Military Academy, a school that teaches young summoners and prepares them to become full-fledged battlemages before sending them to the frontlines. Fletcher learns to control his demon familiar – whom he names Ignatius – alongside the new friends he meets, but also has to contend with the snotty noble children who try to undermine him at every turn. As the war effort becomes increasingly more desperate, the Academy holds a competition to weed out the brightest and the best for leadership positions, and even first-years like Fletcher are included. Fletcher wants to win, and not just because he wants to teach the nobles a lesson. There are shady dealings afoot; political plots and conspiracies abound, and Fletcher knows he can make a difference for the better, if only he can overcome the challenges of the trials and best his opponents to win a position of command.
A quick look at Taran Matharu’s author page tells us that his passion for reading began at a very young age, and it probably wouldn’t surprise me if it turned out he was a fan of Harry Potter as a child. If that’s the case, the influence is pretty strong. I also see shades of influence from other literary sources, like Lord of the Rings, and the use of mana to summon demon companions of varying species and power levels also reminds me of role-playing video games and even Pokemon. Taken by themselves, the ideas are familiar and derived from what we’ve seen before, but taken as a whole, they actually come together here to form something quite new and interesting, not to mention also a whole lot of fun.
Like I said, Taran Matharu’s approach is very straightforward and uncomplicated; it doesn’t feel like he’s sacrificing his vision to adhere to a fixed set of conventions, nor does it feel like he’s out to subvert any norms. At the heart of it, I just see an author telling a story about characters that he obviously cares a lot about. For that, I can overlook some of the novel’s weaknesses, such as the simplistic writing style and on several occasions where it felt somewhat skewed towards younger audiences like Middle Grade. The writing is perhaps my only big issue I had with this novel, which I felt could use a fair bit more polishing, but this is not an area I’m overly concerned with when I read YA.
Plus, there’s a lot to like too. I found the different kinds of demons and their little quirks charming, plus the Demonology treatise found at the end of the book was a nice touch. I liked reading about the magic school environment and the interactions Fletcher has with his fellow students, especially his relationship with the dwarf Othello and the elf Sylva. The tournament at the end definitely made for an entertaining closer as well, though I also can’t wait to finally step out of the academy setting into big wide world. Thus far we’ve not seen much of the ongoing war with the orcs, and I hope we’ll get a chance to get out to the front. Well, after the cliffhanger at the end of this book gets resolved, of course. Just in case you can’t tell, yes, I’m looking forward to the next book....more
You gotta hand it to Joe Abercrombie. Knocking it out of the park on his first venture into Young Adult territory could be seen as a fluke, but when he nails it again for a second time, it’s clearly a testament to his writing skills and versatility. This author is a master when it comes to storytelling, whether he’s writing for teens or adults.
Half the World is the follow-up-but-not-really-a-direct-sequel to Half a King, which introduced readers to the land of Gettland and a young prince with a crippled hand named Yarvi. A man grown now, Prince Yarvi has become Father Yarvi, a trusted minister to Gettland’s king, and is no longer the main focus; instead, that torch and its responsibilities have been passed on to sixteen-year-old Thorn Bathu, a girl with a fierce heart and a fighter’s spirit.
Determined to one day avenge her father, Thorn has been training for years to become a warrior of Gettland, only to fail on the day of her testing and be condemned to death for the accidental killing of a fellow student. When a young warrior named Brand speaks up on her behalf, Thorn is spared from execution only to be swept up along with Brand into an ambitious political plot devised by the cunning Father Yarvi, which sees the three of them and a ragtag crew embarking on an exciting but dangerous diplomatic mission across half the world.
For a society that worships a goddess referred to as Mother War, you would think they’d be more open and accepting of female warriors, but apparently not. It’s an uphill battle all the way for Thorn Bathu to prove herself to her teacher, her peers and even to her own mother, whom Thorn suspects had always wished for a daughter more into sewing and pretty dresses. But Thorn is who she is, and I can’t say I would have preferred it any other way. Not that kickass heroines are in short supply when it comes to the YA genre, but take any of the female protagonists in any of the more popular books in the genre these days, and I guarantee you Thorn will make every single one of them look like fluffy kittens. When I say Thorn is a tough girl, you definitely get a tough girl. That’s mainly because Abercrombie simply does not hold back when it comes to his characters; if he feels that a fight scene calls for his protagonist getting a knife through the cheek…well, she’s getting a knife through the cheek (“Ouch, sorry about that, Thorn, but it builds character!)
Not that Abercrombie is infallible. One thing to note is that there was not a full-blown romantic subplot in Half a King like there is in Half the World, and when it comes to writing a YA romance and a teenage girl’s perspective, he manages admirably though not without unintentional awkwardness. Scenes where Thorn is kicking ass and taking names seem to come naturally, but where her softer feelings for Brand are concerned (playing mental games of he-loves-me-he-loves-me-not, feeling jealous of other girls, appreciating the virtues of his well-toned backside, etc.) that’s when you sense that Abercrombie may be feeling a bit out of his comfort zone. It’s not too distracting; the moments where Thorn almost acts like a completely different person are more amusing than they are truly problematic. However, this does make Brand the more consistent character, and I sometimes found myself enjoying and looking forward to his chapters more than Thorn’s.
Story-wise, I also found the twists and turns in Half the World to be somewhat tamer and more predictable than in Half a King, though this might have something to do with the fact that we now know the character of Father Yarvi well enough to “expect the unexpected”. Nevertheless, I sailed through this novel loving every page of it, but the highlight was without a doubt the last few chapters that led up to and culminated in the stunning climax. For you see, fight scenes are a bit of a Joe Abercrombie specialty. Once the action starts, it’s impossible to tear your eyes away. The final showdown was one such sequence, with the suspense keeping you on the edge of seat until the moment of reckoning. As climaxes go, that was close to perfection. Before the ending, I was already pretty set on rating Half the World a solid 4 stars, but that one amazing scene alone made me bump it up to 4.5.
One thing is clear, though – the scene is now set for the next and final book of the trilogy. Seeing as how things have progressed so far, Half a War promises to be even more intense and exciting. I can’t wait. ...more
An Ember in the Ashes was a great read, and so far probably one of my favorite “mainstream” Young Adult books this year. I can definitely understand the excitement surrounding it, and the book might actually live up to all the attention. That said, the novel is not without its flaws, ultimately falling prey to the many pitfalls of its genre. For a debut, though? I thought it was fantastic.
The book takes place in the heart of the ruthless Martial Empire, following the strife filled lives of two young people. Laia is a simple Scholar girl, forced to join the Resistance after her brother Darin, the only family she has left, is arrested by the military. In order to free Darin, she agrees to go undercover to spy on the Commandant of the empire’s military academy. Then there’s Elias Veturius, one of best soldiers to ever graduate from that academy. Deep down though, he wants nothing more than to escape from the empire and leave its brutal traditions behind forever.
The empire’s Augurs, however, have a different plan in mind. It has been foreseen that without an heir, the current Martial emperor’s line will end this year. The next ruler of the greatest empire this world has ever seen is to be chosen amongst the finest crop of the academy’s latest graduates – which means Elias is to be thrown into a series of competitions that will test his resolve and push him to his limits. Meanwhile, Laia is tasked by the Resistance to find out more about the process, plunging her into the cruel and unrestrained world of the Trials, binding her fate to Elias’s forever.
The plot is quite intriguing to say the least, in spite of the fact that we start things off with what appears to be the two most foolish protagonists on the planet. Elias, who is about to attempt the riskiest decision of his life by deserting, can’t even seem to muster up the ability to at least look innocent. Then there’s Laia, who keeps berating herself over and over again for being such a useless, weak coward. I’m sure it will come as a surprise to absolutely no one that when you say something enough times, you’ll actually start to believe it. Which is why, very quickly, Laia began to really get on my nerves.
But then the amount of character growth by the end of the book, at least for Elias, was astounding. Despite the book having two main protagonists, for me it was all about him. His chapters are more exciting, but more importantly, he has his beliefs plus the determination, strength and courage to stick by them. I’m also captivated by the relationships. A bizarre dynamic exists in Gens Veturius, with Elias’s grandfather General Quin as its patriarch, but it is his daughter, Elias’s mother, who holds the deadliest power. That’s because she’s also the military school’s Commandant. Yes, the very same one Laia was ordered to spy on.
As the Commandant, Keris Veturius is one of the best YA villains I’ve ever encountered. It’s rare that a bad guy actually becomes one of my favorite characters, but there’s a cold, well-crafted complexity to her that we don’t see a lot in this genre, and that immediately made her fascinating. Not only does she have total authority over all the Masks, she also possesses a disturbing tendency to just KNOW things. Her relationship with Elias is also a curious subject. There’s certainly no love lost between mother and son, and in fact the Commandant seems repulsed by Elias. The relationship between Elias and his grandfather Quin on the other hand appears warmer and more genial, and you really have to wonder just what on earth happened to make this family so screwed up like this. We get some hints at the end, but there’s definitely a much bigger story there, and I have a feeling that it might have something to do with the identity of Elias’s father.
I also really like the character of Helene, Elias’s oldest and closest friend at the academy. I really wish she had been a point-of-view character; somehow I think I would have had enjoyed seeing through her eyes more than Laia’s. I think the dynamics between Elias and Helene are also more interesting, and I couldn’t have been more pleased with how their story played out, taking us along on an unpredictable ride full of twists and turns, wondering all the while how things are going to end for these two best friends. There are so much more I want to know about Helene, but unfortunately we don’t get a lot of information. No reason has been given yet as to why they only choose one woman per generation for the military school, for instance. But still, her relationship with Elias interests me, and I’m looking forward to see how that plot thread will resolve.
Now on to the novel’s weaknesses. For me, the big one was Laia. While Elias grew as a character, Laia continued to be infuriating as hell. She agrees to be a spy, jumping into this nigh impossible situation without any serious consideration, fueled only by her obnoxious bullheadedness. She makes a terrible spy too, by the way, and everyone knows this including herself. Yet she never actually makes the effort to find out how to be a better one, and if it weren’t for advice given to her by others she would have kept making the same mistakes again and again. The worst part is, she laments incessantly about how weak she thinks she is, and instead of making me sympathize with her, it just makes me angry. Through all this she never grows her own backbone, until literally the very last chapter when it’s too late for me to care. The rest of the book, it’s always her brother Darin’s voice in her head giving her encouragement instead of her own, Darin giving her a reason to take action instead of her own will. She shows very little growth in that sense, despite the brave face she tries to put on. Her chapters aren’t as interesting either, and mostly I just couldn’t wait until they were over so I could get back to Elias’s point of view.
Also, if I had to pick a few nits, firstly I wished the author had gone with different names for the world’s people rather than “Scholar” or “Martial”. It reminded me too much of Divergent, not exactly one of my favorite YA novels and certainly not a book I’d want to associate with this one. Secondly, there are some logical inconsistencies in the story (like if Blackcliff Academy was such a hotbed for Resistance spies, you’d think the military would have a better system in place to vet their slaves and servants. Of course, if they did, Laia’s incompetence would have never have gotten her through and there would be no story).
And thirdly, there is this bizarre love triangle. Actually, make that two love triangles. When the book started off with Elias and Helene, Laia and Keenan (another Resistance member), I was really hoping Sabaa Tahir would stay on this path with these two pairs and avoid having to resort to overused love geometrics. Alas, ultimately she decided to adhere to convention, and to my further dismay, instead of just having a single love triangle we end up with this two-girls-for-one-boy and two-boys-for-one-girl situation. A bit unnecessary, if you ask me.
So yes, there definitely are some punches you just have to roll with. But fortunately, they are small punches. The last few that I mentioned are insignificant to minor flaws, none of which are nearly as big as the issue I had with Laia’s character, which is probably the main reason I’m not embracing this book as wholeheartedly as I could be.
I really did enjoy this book though, and the fact that I’ve already written so much in this review is probably a good testament to how much I liked it. I found it quite addicting, especially Elias’s chapters and the terrible things he had to go through in the Trials. I admit, when I started the book I truly thought the results of the completion would be a foregone conclusion, but I was wrong – there are a lot of surprises and unexpected twists and turns in the search for the Martial’s new Emperor and Blood Shrike. With the way it ended, I can’t imagine there not being a sequel. Who knows what it’ll be and who knows when it’ll come out, but what I do know is that I’ll be checking it out for sure.
It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Brandon Sanderson, and I admit I usually go into his books with higher than average expectations. Still, I rarely find myself disappointed. There’s just something about his style of writing and storytelling that really appeals to me, and the truth is, the man is a font of utterly amazing and creative ideas.
In 2013 Sanderson brought us Steelheart, the first book in The Reckoners series about superheroes gone bad, and I loved every moment of it. So you can imagine my excitement when I received the Firefight audiobook for review! This book is the highly anticipated sequel, and I couldn’t wait to get back to David Charleston and his fellow freedom fighters, joining them on their continuing mission to neutralize Epics and end their oppression. After destroying Steelheart and freeing the city of Newcago from his reign of terror, the Reckoners are headed to Babylon Restored, formerly New York City, to seek out more High Epics to defeat.
Their latest target is Regalia, a High Epic with water-based abilities who rules Babylar (Babylon Restored, or Babyl-R, hence Babylar). Sanderson once again proves he is the master of world-building the instant we enter the city by way of a boat, because most of what used to be Manhattan is submerged. If I had any reservations at all about the story and characters leaving Newcago for another setting, they were dashed as soon as I encountered Babylar’s watery landscape – er, seascape. Regalia has crafted hills and valleys out of the surrounding ocean using her Epic abilities, and what’s more, there’s a mysterious power in Babylar causing strange things to happen, like graffiti to glow and luminescent fruit to grow in abundance in what’s left of the skyscrapers visible above water. The result is this mind-boggling tableau of a post-apocalyptic city with an otherworldly, almost magical quality to its appearance.
In departing Newcago for Babylar, we’re also leaving a couple of characters behind, namely Cody and Abraham. However, the story makes up for that by introducing us to several new faces as Prof, Tia and David team up with the members of the Reckoners cell in Babylar. Val, Exel and Mizzy are all fascinating additions to the book, but I have a feeling it is the latter who will steal the hearts of many readers, due to her perkiness and loveable personality. Indeed, Mizzy was one of my favorites.
Obviously, a big part of this book also involves David’s conflicted feelings about Megan AKA Firefight, the girl who infiltrated the Reckoners and stole their secrets along with David’s heart. What I really thought was great is that David’s soft spot for Megan is more than just a typical vapid “forbidden love” side plot; besides causing friction with Prof and his new Babylar teammates, David’s relationship with Firefight also serves as the catalyst for huge things to come at the end of the novel.
When it comes to our main man, David is his entertaining, goofy yet charming self. I know some readers have expressed annoyance at these books so far because of the horrible metaphors David makes or the absurdity of some of the Epics’ weaknesses, claiming that these factors weaken the series by making it seem ridiculous. It’s a fair point, though on some level I think you have to see them as the running gags they’re meant to be. David’s attempts at metaphors may be cringe-worthy and pathetic, but they add some much needed humor to this otherwise very bleak world where Epics who by all rights should be humanity’s heroes turn out instead to be our worst nightmare.
This is probably also a good time to mention how much I enjoyed Firefight in audio format. Initially, I had qualms about tackling the audiobook – after all, a bad narrator can ruin the whole experience. This was absolutely not the case here, however. I believe I actually have narrator-extraordinaire MacLeod Andrews to thank for feeling a lot more connected to David’s character in this sequel than I did in Steelheart.
I’ve heard of Andrews before this; he has narrated a number of books and I’ve listened to a few of his performances. Still, I don’t remember being as blown away as I was with his work here. You can tell with some audiobooks when the narrator is really enjoying themselves, as they add their own inflections and other nuances as they’re reading, becoming the character. This is definitely one of those situations. For me, Andrews became David. Reading the character’s silly jokes on paper might fall flat for some readers, but the lines come to life when delivered by MacLeod Andrews. David is no doubt meant to be a little awkward, and somehow Andrews is able to convey that while still managing to sound very natural and real at the same time.
All told, I would say Firefight is another winner from Brandon Sanderson. New setting also means new heroes and new villains, and I’m glad things like that are keeping the series fresh. Arguably, there are even more twists and turns here than in Steelheart, with Regalia and her Epic minions like the wily Newton and utterly psychotic Obliteration mercilessly playing cat-and-mouse with the Reckoners. I loved the unpredictability of the plot, since it’s so rare that a Young Adult novel can capture my attention and keep me in suspense from beginning to end. The YA categorization is debatable though, as these books can most certainly be enjoyed by a much wider audience. I for one would recommend this to young adult and adult readers alike. Seriously worth your time....more
Half a King is marketed as a Young Adult novel so I’m also going to label it as such, but doing so also feels wrong somehow. It’s not just because it is so different and unconventional compared to what we may think of as “mainstream” YA out there, but I also think adult fantasy readers or those familiar with Joe Abercrombie’s gritty adult fantasy novels will no doubt feel right at home reading this too. Now, if you’re thinking to yourself, “Joe Abercrombie and YA? Now THIS I have to see,” well, yes, yes you do. As a fan of his work, I was very curious to see how his first venture into YA fiction would work out, and I have to say I’m quite astounded and impressed with the results.
The book follows Yarvi, a young prince born with a crippled hand. In a warrior society that values fighting prowess, this disability has limited him and led him to be treated with disdain his whole life. When his father and older brother are unexpectedly killed in an enemy ambush, Yarvi has no choice but to inherit the throne, but he barely has the chance to warm the seat before he is betrayed and left for dead. His fight for survival sees him sold into slavery, taken on the high seas and far away from home, but Yarvi knows he will not give up until he gets his revenge.
As ever, character development is Abercrombie’s strong suit, and everyone you meet is a constantly evolving tapestry, realistically woven with hardly any black-and-whites. Despite the YA nature of the novel, we don’t see a sacrifice in the quality of the characters or storytelling. Yarvi feels like the genuine product of his history and upbringing as the forgotten royal son, dismissed for a failure and never being able to become anyone important. Those sentiments have rubbed off on Yarvi himself, who has a tendency towards self-doubt and is prone to question his own worth. He’s no prince charming, and what use does he have for pride and honor? The only constants that keep him alive are his anger and sharp wit. It makes for some very interesting decisions on his part.
Also belying the familiar tale of the betrayed prince seeking to retake his stolen throne is a much more complicated story packed with unexpected twists and turns. It may have been fine-tuned for a younger audience, but the plot loses none of its subtlety. The problem with a lot of YA novels today involve the overuse of tired old tropes, and thank goodness Abercrombie decided to forgo pretty much all of them. You can never predict for a certainty where he will go with a story, and since I’ve enjoyed his crafty, clever writing in style in a lot of his adult books, I’m really glad to see it here in Half a King as well. You never know what tiny little detail can come back later on in the book and haunt you, so don’t even blink!
Best yet, while it is the first book of a series, it can most definitely be read as a standalone with no cliffhangers or glaring unresolved conflicts. Clearly, there are many more places we can go with the characters and ideas in this novel, but here we have a complete, self-contained story. Again, THANK YOU.
In sum, this feels like a young adult book. But it also feels like a Joe Abercrombie book. Take the best of both worlds, like the easy, engaging and action-packed fast pace of the former and the elegant writing style of the latter, and you have Half a King, which is Full of Awesome. I would recommend it in general, but also especially for readers who have always struggled with the YA category, or who might be suffering burnout from the same old, same old. I frequently find myself in this camp. While I love YA, sometimes all the love triangles and cliffhangers can take its toll, and a book like Half a King is the perfect cure to invigorate my interest and make the genre exciting again....more
When I requested this book from NetGalley, this was in the description: “For readers of A Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games comes an epic new series.” I realize similar claims get thrown around a lot. Still, even in cases where I don’t agree, most of the time I can at least understand why a comparison to ______ might be made.
When it comes to this book though, I’m mystified. This is nothing like Game of Thrones OR The Hunger Games. Not even a little bit. I knew an ambitious declaration like that should have immediately put me on my guard, and I guess I really should have trusted my instincts. “Epic” is also debatable. While we have a story spanning the globe, from the highlands of rural Scotland to the bustling streets of Hong Kong, the scope of the narrative is actually quite limited. Most of what we get is personal drama revolving around just a handful of characters.
Needless to say, Seeker wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. It always pains me to write a negative review, so rather than expound on all the things that didn’t work for me, I’ll just list and briefly talk about them.
- First, I’m not in the habit of DNFing. I read this whole book from beginning to end, but even now I would be hard-pressed to tell you what a Seeker is exactly, or even what they do, beyond the very generic fact that they should be “fighting evil”. That it’s never explained in detail just seems like a gross oversight to me. When most of the characters are Seekers and the ACTUAL TITLE of the book is Seeker, you’d think something like that would be at the forefront. Instead, there is very little to no “Seeking” going on in the book…or whatever it is that Seekers do.
- What exactly are the Dreads? I know they’re supposed to be witnesses, mediators or judges (Judge Dreads?) but how do they fit into this picture? Where do they come from and what is their history? How did they get involved with the Seekers? I. Have. Absolutely. No. Idea.
- Unsurprisingly, I found world-building to be sorely lacking, practically non-existent. You have to understand, I’m not asking for info-dumps or to have my hand being held through the whole book, but I do need a starting point, SOMETHING to anchor me. I felt like I was thrown into this world and the author just expects me to know everything and doesn’t see the need to provide any background information.
- The writing is simplistic and contrived. There are a couple chapters where things aren’t so bad, but most of the prose feels clumsy. The dialogue feels forced. There’s a lot of telling, and not enough showing. Many strange quirks in the writing, like poorly executed time jumps (I actually thought I missed a few pages) which probably relates back to the lack of world-building.
- Speaking of time jumps, just when exactly are we supposed to be? One moment it seems like we’re in medieval Scotland and the next, BOOM, we’re in present day (or futuristic?) Hong Kong. If you’re going to have your characters jump back and forth through portals, you should establish both time and place!
- The characters are pretty bland and unengaging. Quin is a far cry from the kickass heroine she’s meant to be; instead, it feels like her whole purpose is to be a trophy for the two boys who are in love with her. It was so frustrating to watch John and Shinobu fight over her like she’s a piece of meat. The plot thread that involves her losing her memory also makes me understand now why some readers hate amnesia storylines. So she spent more than a year essentially suppressing her own memories? And she’s suddenly a healer? All that “brutal training” she supposedly received didn’t seem to amount to much.
- The romantic side plot is unimaginative and I wasn’t convinced of any of the relationships. I think this is partly due to the awkward writing style, and unnatural dialogue (especially when the characters were discussing their feelings for each other, I couldn’t help but cringe).
- This probably comes as no surprise, but for most of the book, I felt like I had NO IDEA what was going on. More than a few times, I wondered to myself if my ARC was missing huge chunks of the story, as so much of it made no sense. I’m sure there’s a good overall premise in here somewhere, but it was not well executed. Instead, we are left with a whole lot of confusion.
In general I don’t like to DNF, and not only because I’m a completionist. Sometimes a book can be weak in the beginning, but then redeem itself with a strong conclusion. There have been times where I almost put down a book, only to end up absolutely loving it when I finish. I admit it doesn’t happen often, but now I’ve developed a habit where when book that don’t blow me away at first, I always hold out in the hopes that it will get better. But unfortunately, this just didn’t happen with Seeker.
I did hear that there is talk of a movie adaptation for the book. Thing is, I actually think the book would work better as a live action film with its exotic settings, bombastic action sequences, and young attract protagonists. It would make a great cinematic experience, but to achieve a similar awe-inspiring feeling, I’m afraid large swaths of the book would have to be more rigorously edited and perhaps rewritten. There are lots of interesting ideas in here, with an intriguing mix of science fiction and fantasy, and it’s really just a shame that the book falls short of its full potential. I will not be continuing this series, sadly....more
I’m always on the lookout for good Lovecraft-inspired horror, and so when I stumbled upon the description of Daryl Gregory’s new novel Harrison Squared I just knew I had to check it out.
When Harrison Harrison (nicknamed Harrison Squared by his scientist mother, because geek humor is the best kind of humor) was a toddler, his family’s boat was capsized by a giant tentacled sea monster. Officially, the authorities said that it was a sharp piece of metal that claimed Harrison’s leg, and that the storm was what drowned his father, but Harrison knew he did not imagine or hallucinate what he saw that terrible day.
Now sixteen years old, he travels cross-country with his mother to Dunnsmouth, Massachusetts, a quiet seaside town where everything seems creepy as hell. His school is like a labyrinth out of myth, the teachers don’t seem to care whether he shows up to his classes or not, and the other students are like the Children of the Corn. The first night in town, his favorite comic book gets stolen by some weird fish-boy. Then tragedy hits when Harrison’s marine biologist mom goes missing at sea. Refusing to believe she’s dead, Harrison goes investigating. Pretty soon he’s gathered about him a group of unlikely allies to battle the nightmarish Scrimshander, an ancient Dunnsmouth legend come to life.
Why do I love the Lovecraftian subgenre so? For the atmosphere, of course. As a setting, Dunnsmouth perfectly embodies the rural, insular feel of Lovecraft country, belying the terrible secrets kept under wraps by its townsfolk. The horror featured in these stories tend to involve cosmicism and the occult, which is psychologically so much more effective. Daryl Gregory delivers all these aspects, combining both fantasy and horror elements in a neat little package. There’s no small amount of weirdness in the plot, which is usually something I can’t tolerate, but Gregory somehow renders it into a conceivable, real-world everyday kind of weird that his protagonist Harrison takes in stride…so I did as well.
The book will also do well with both adults and teens, striking the perfect balance for crossover appeal. On the surface, Harrison seems to be like a lot of other kids his age, struggling with a volatile temper and his desire to fit in at a new school. But gradually, the reader will learn that he’s also not your typical teenager. Harrison is very well written and convincing; his quiet resourcefulness both charmed and intrigued me, and I sympathized with his fear of the ocean and felt for him when his mom was reported lost at sea. So much of his life has been shaped by the boating accident when he was three years old, and unraveling the mysteries behind his character ended up being as much fun as keeping up with the story itself.
Gregory also rounds out the cast with several fantastic secondary characters, including Lydia, a fellow classmate from school; Lub, the half-human-half-fish boy; and last but not least, the most memorable of all for me was Harrison’s Aunt Selena who arrives in Dunnsmouth from New York City to take care of Harrison after his mom goes missing. Breezing into town in a flurry of silks and designer clothes, Sel was not at all what I expected, but it sure made me wish I had more relatives like her.
I had a great time with this book. It’s not a heart-pounding tale of horror, but rather a well-paced delectable mystery that’s also a fun adventure filled with lots of unexpected twists and turns, while exuding an eerie vibe. I enjoyed uncovering the secrets of Dunnsmouth with Harrison and his strange but really cool group of friends, and hopefully there will be some sort of follow-up to this book and that we won’t have long to wait for it....more
Whoa, where do I start? My head is still reeling with all the things I have to say about Red Rising. Now let's just hope I can consolidate them all into a coherent review without having it devolve into unrestrained, mindless gushing. In any case, I expect this book will be wildly popular -- though only time will tell, of course. Nonetheless, 2014 appears to be off to a great start with debuts like this one from Pierce Brown.
Meet Darrow, a miner on Mars. His people, the Reds, occupy the lowest rungs of society. And like all Reds, Darrow is resigned to a life of hard labor, of digging under the planet's surface for the rest of his days. He thought it was for a noble cause, that his hard work will provide future generations a safe place to call home. Except, as it turns out, it was all a lie. Mars had been habitable for generations, and the decadent Golds have been maintaining this charade all along to uphold their hierarchical system of castes and slaves.
Let me just get it out of the way now and say that comparisons to The Hunger Games will be inevitable. You have a dystopian society featuring a main protagonist who rises from the poorest, most downtrodden and oppressed section of it, hoping to destroy the system from within. But before that can happen, he has to go through a transformation to help him fit in with his enemies. You have a competition in which the hero must come out on top at all costs. The war games involved are observed by many, in this case the Proctors of the Institute as well as thousands of Aureates and important Golds who follow the results eagerly, hoping to find their future apprentices amongst the competitors.
But now that that's taken care of, I can also tell you all the ways it was different. First and foremost, the world of Red Rising is hands down in a league of its own. The descriptions of the society and its people and its cultures all overwhelmed me. I credit much of this to Pierce Brown's writing, which is just gorgeous. How does he do it? How does he paint the picture of a life as a Red with so much suffering, hardship, and horrors and yet still manages to fill it with so much beauty? The first chapters were simply astounding, introducing you to Darrow, who comes across as much older than his sixteen years thanks to the experiences he's had as Helldiver, the most dangerous position on a drilling team. His people value song and dance, because even in the darkness there is a kind of hope in expression through music. It's all so lovely, just absolutely surprising and heart-breaking.
Oops, I'm treading dangerously into gushing-territory now, aren't I? Thing is, so much of my thoughts for what I read is tied up in emotion, and no question about it, this one gave me all the feels. There's a keen bite to the story, which will rub your emotions raw if you're not expecting it. Even knowing beforehand that some terrible event is going to set Darrow off on his mission for justice, I was not prepared for the number Red Rising did on my poor, battered emotions. I'm not typically one to give in to tears while reading, but when I saw that we weren't even fifty pages in yet and I felt like bawling my eyes out, I knew at that very moment I was holding a truly remarkable book in my hands.
It only gets better. That darkness and poignancy lasts for the whole book, even when the focus shifts to the games at the Institute. Saying that all hell breaks loose at this point would be a gross understatement -- but in a good way. Oh, in the best way. I expect this is where most people will draw parallels to The Hunger Games, but interestingly enough, my own mind went straight to Age of Empires. No doubt it's the gamer side of me coming through, for I could not read about the characters gathering resources, dividing their forces up for different tasks, commanding armies and conquering other Houses' bases and their Fog of War maps without reminiscing about some of my favorite real-time strategy games with fondness.
Seeing as how the game at the Institute makes up the bulk of this novel, this book would have been anywhere near as addicting or intense for me if not for the descriptions of the tactics and strategies involved. And yet, it is still a very human story; Pierce Brown takes the reader straight down to the trenches where we experience everything from terror and triumph as the competitors fight tooth and nail to try and conquer each other. One could hardly miss the symbolism behind it, a decadent pantheon watching on with amusement as the puny mortals below go at each other like depraved animals.
Ultimately, comparisons will probably abound no matter what. But none of them will change the fact that Red Rising is a very special book, filled with beautiful and terrible things in equal measure. It definitely has what it takes to shine on its own, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. ...more
I was a bit taken aback by the tepid to cool reviews I’ve been seeing for this one. Not that my own review is all that glowing, I realize, but while Talon probably won’t rank among my favorite Young Adult novels read this year, I had a lot of fun with it. By all means not a bad book. Surprisingly, most of the disappointment appears to be from fans of Julie Kagawa’s other series. I’ve never read anything else by her though, so there’s really nothing for me to compare this to.
But let’s move on to what the book is about. Talon is about dragons…but also not really. If you’re looking for a novel featuring these magnificent creatures in all their winged and scaly fire-breathing glory, you’re not going to find much of that here. What you have instead is a small group of dragonkind who spend most of their time in human form, hoping to infiltrate our society and one day take over the world again. A secret faction of dragon slayers called the Order of St. George is determined not to let that happen, and their members continue to hunt dragons like they have for time immemorial.
The book begins as two young dragon siblings, Ember and Dante Hill travel to California in their human forms to begin training for their future positions to serve their home base of Talon. Ember is fascinated with humankind, and wants nothing more than to enjoy the summer living out the full teenager experience – beaches, arcades, ice cream parlors, the whole shebang. Her brother Dante on the other hand is a lot more disciplined, and does not like it one bit when a rogue dragon shows up in their territory, distracting Ember from her training. Meanwhile, St. George has received the rumors of new dragon recruits in the area, and the young soldier Garret Xavier Sebastian and his partner are tasked to hunt these Talon agents down and kill them.
Encouraged to mingle and blend in with other teenagers, Ember and Dante spend most of this book as humans. But unlike other books with shape-shifting dragons (like Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina for example, which I thought did a really good job developing the culture and world of the draconic characters), it’s difficult to think of the dragons here as anything but human. This is what I meant when I cautioned not to think of Talon too much as a “dragon” book. Despite a few scenes of Ember thinking as a dragon and being a dragon – and they are quite few and far between – the author often seems to put her human persona before her draconic one. Plus, the setting is modern and urban. Ember’s life revolves around surfing, parties, friends and boys. Very little is known about the dragon home of Talon and Kagawa doesn’t really get into it. For those craving a bit more fantasy and world building, I can see how that could cause some frustration.
As such, this ends up being your rather typical contemporary young adult novel with a light fantasy twist, complete with love triangle and just a dash of forbidden love. Despite being exactly what I expected, it was undeniably entertaining.
After reading this, however, I admit to being skeptical of Kagawa’s writing. It’s obvious that she can spin a good yarn, but there were some plot elements that were so illogical and downright silly, it can be difficult to take these characters seriously. First of all, if you can take any form and you’re trying to covertly infiltrate and gain influence in human society, I would not do it as a teenager. Good luck gathering any useful information to bring back to your overlords, unless they’re interested in how your airheaded friend thinks so-and-so is so totally gorgeous and has nice abs. Talon is also so bad at this undercover secret agent stuff, I’m not surprised St. George managed to narrow their search down to Ember and Dante and their group of beach bum friends in like all of two seconds. You’re a dragon spy, and you’re seriously going to stick with Ember for your name? You might as well paint a target on your back and wear a big sign that says “I’M THE DRAGON!” and hang it around your neck. The Order of St. George doesn’t seem that much more competent either. At one point, Garret admits to his partner that he is getting too close to Ember and recommends stepping back from the mission. Instead of allowing Garret to do so, what does his partner do but tell him to take advantage of this new development to go even deeper into the case. Um, no! As soon as one of your soldiers gets emotionally involved and becomes compromised like that, you pull them the hell out. A lot of the problems that St. George experience near the end, they brought most of them on themselves.
These little moments aside, not much else detracted from the experience. Yes, the story is pretty standard but ended up being more interesting than the description made it sound, and it held my attention to the end, which isn’t something I can say for a lot of YA. The next book, predictably called Rogue, looks like it will delve deeper into the both the secret Order of St. George and the dragon organization Talon, so hopefully readers get the world building we want there....more
Boy is a Mage, brought up on lessons about the power of illusions, taught that reality is a sham and that people are shadows – and oh, no matter what you do, do NOT trust those lying, stinking Mechanics.
Girl is a Mechanic, a master of logic and equations who prides herself on the fact that no machine is beyond her abilities to fix, and of course, Mechanics are just so much better than those useless Mages.
Then boy meets girl. Everything changes. Alain and Mari come together after their caravan is destroyed by bandits, only managing to survive the treacherous journey back to civilization with each other’s help. They begin to discover just how much their Guild elders have kept from them, secrets and misconceptions that have been keeping the Mage-Mechanical rivalry alive for all these hundreds of years.
Then the power of Foresight unexpectedly comes to Alain. He learns something that Mari doesn’t know – that she is in fact the prophesied chosen one who will unite the two great guilds and save the world. As the two are sent to Dorcastle amidst rumors of uncontrolled dragons and sabotage, Alain can hardly begin to describe the way he feels for Mari, but he does know staying away from her as his masters had ordered is not an option.
The Dragons of Dorcastle is a sweet little story about the serendipitous partnership between two people from different divides, who end up realizing they were wrong about everything they thought they knew about the other. I’d never read anything by John G. Hemry AKA Jack Campbell before, though I do know a bit about his military sci-fi Lost Fleet series, which I can’t imagine can be any more different than this book, a Young Adult-ish fantasy and steampunk romance.
Surprisingly though, this was very good. A little standard, perhaps, and playing a bit too safe when it comes to ideas. However, seeing as this book was originally written to be an audiobook exclusive for Audible Studios, it wouldn’t surprise me if a fun and practical story like this – intended to appeal to a wider and more general audience – was a conscious decision. And it was probably the right decision; I can see it being the perfect choice for anyone in the mood for an entertaining and light read looking to pass the time, though it’s possible that diehard genre readers may be left unsatisfied.
But hey, here be dragons. Well, okay, maybe not exactly. I don’t actually hold this against the book, but I think it’s worth mentioning anyhow that I find the title a bit misleading. There’s some dragon activity for sure, though it doesn’t come until very late in the book, and relatively briefly. Relating this to my thoughts above, I can’t help but to think the name was another clever move to boost appeal. Granted, the story does present a rather intriguing mystery about the dragons at the end, so even though they aren’t the center of attention, we are left with some major dragon-related questions to ponder and there’s no doubt they will play a bigger role in the next book.
Perhaps the novel’s greatest strength is its focus the characters. Most of the book is spent developing the relationship between Alain and Mari, even when the two aren’t even in the same scene. We’re in their heads all the time, experiencing their thoughts and emotions as contemplate the other. The narrative does an especially good job with Alain, whose capacity for emotions has been all but stripped by the Mage guild. The way I looked at the situation, it’s actually a lot like reading about Spock falling in love. That is to say, it’s no easy feat. The author deserves my admiration for pulling it off.
Let’s face it, too: I’m a sucker for Forbidden Love. Despite being YA and the style of prose leaning towards younger audiences, I really enjoyed the delightful romance blooming between Alain and Mari. It’s a relationship I find more “cute” than “passionate”, but nonetheless it worked surprisingly well for me.
In the end, The Dragons of Dorcastle is not a terribly original or noteworthy book, but I really liked it. Its down-to-earth style, entertainment value, and wonderful characters made it very hard for me to resist its charms. All told, a very good book to just curl up and relax with....more
I was introduced to the world of Midnight Thief late last year when author Livia Blackburne offered me a review copy of the prequel novella, Poison Dance. After reading it I came to two conclusions. First, Ms. Blackburne obviously puts a lot of care and effort into her writing, and knows how to tell a great story. And second, if what I saw in her novella was any indication, the actual book is going to be awesome.
In Midnight Thief, we get to meet a couple of brand new protagonists: Kyra, the thief who barely manages to eke out a living by stealing or doing the odd job, and Tristam of Brancel, the newly promoted Palace Knight (or glorified Palace Guard, depending on how you look at it). If you’ve read Poison Dance, some familiar faces turn up too, like James, now leader of the Assassin’s Guild, who approaches Kyra with a lucrative offer. All she has to do is train with the guild, run a few errands, and he promises her that she will never lack for anything again.
Meanwhile, trade in Forge is disrupted as a clan of vicious raiders begin targeting the caravans to and from the city. These Demon Riders and their wild cats keep young Tristam and his fellow knights busy on patrol as gradually the attacks grow bolder and closer to Forge. On one fateful raid, Tristam and Kyra’s paths cross and their lives become irrevocably intertwined. Thief and Knight must join forces and learn to work together if they’re going to uncover a greater conspiracy rotting at the heart of Forge.
Though classified as Young Adult, the book feels like it could be aimed at younger readers, perhaps closer to upper Middle Grade. There is a strong thread of romance, but it isn’t a big part of the novel, nor does it come into play until much later. Tristam doesn’t even make his first appearance until after a handful of Kyra’s chapters, and it also surprised me how long it took for them to finally meet face-to-face for the first time. This struck me as an oddity, until I realized I didn’t actually mind. It’s nice to see a YA novel once in a while that doesn’t follow the formula, and we were able to get to know Kyra and Tristam a lot better individually without the overbearing pressure to thrust the two of them into a relationship right away.
The story was also in line with my thoughts on the target audience -- straightforward and suitably complex, if a bit predictable at times (there were a lot of not-too-subtle hints at Kyra’s “startling secret” about her past, for one). In spite of this, I still found this book greatly enjoyable and entertaining; the plot may not have held any unseen surprises for me, but the characters sure did. The dynamics were so intricate and layered that I never could determine which faction were the “good guys” or the “bad”, because nothing was ever so simple or black and white. In the end, I just gave up trying to put a label on anybody’s motivations and ultimately settled for rooting for Kyra. I liked her, and no matter what I knew I wanted to see things end up well for our talented young thief.
Which reminds me, if you haven’t read Poison Dance yet, I do highly recommend making the effort to pick it up first before tackling this novel. It’s not required, but it’s a short read and won’t take up much of your time. More importantly, the novella will help you see a certain character in Midnight Thief in a whole different light, and perhaps make him a lot more sympathetic in your eyes. It definitely served to enhance my experience.
If you’re looking for a good medieval era inspired YA fantasy and don’t mind a narrative that skews a tad towards younger readers, I would recommend this novel. It’s fun, adventurous, and strong on character development. ...more
When it comes to Young Adult fiction, David Hair hasn’t just broken the mold. He’s completely shattered it. His book The Pyre is a substantially revised edition of his 2010 novel Pyre of Queens, inspired heavily by Indian folklore and mythology, even incorporating a reimagined version of the epic Ramayana. The entire novel takes place in India, following the lives (and past lives) of a trio of Indian high school students.
Two story lines occur in tandem over the course of this novel. One takes place in 769 AD in the royal court of Ravindra-Raj, the mad king of Rajasthan. His people live in the shadow of his tyranny, and anyone suspected of sedition or rebellion is quickly tortured and killed. Fearing that Ravindra will come for him next, Madan Shastri, Captain of the Guard, redoubles his efforts to show his loyalty even though his king’s cruel commands sicken him. The court poet Aram Dhoop is a bookish man who is unhappy with the way things are, but lacks the fighting skills or courage to do anything about it – that is, until Ravindra suddenly dies under mysterious circumstances and Aram learns that the king’s wives are to be burned to death on the pyre along with their husband’s body. Aram had fallen in love with the newest of the wives, a young woman named Darya, and in a moment of daring, the poet rescues her from the flames and whisks her off away from the palace. As the guard captain, Shastri is ordered by Ravindra’s son and heir to go after them. Reluctant as he is, Shastri has no choice but to obey.
However, all was not as it seemed. Ravindra’s death and the burning of his wives was actually a part of the mad king’s schemes all along. His plan to rise again as Ravana, the demon-king of the Ramayana was thwarted by Darya’s escape, and now he’ll make them all regret it – for a long, long, LONG time.
Fast forward to a high school in the city of Jodhpur, Rajasthan, in the year 2010. Nerdy Vikram, athletic Amanjit and beautiful Deepika are three students whose lives are changed forever when a strange phenomenon is triggered the first time they all find themselves together in one place. Soon, they’re working together to solve the mystery of how the three of them are linked, and the answers they seek may be hidden in the past.
Before reading The Pyre, the only other works I’ve read by David Hair were his Moontide Quartet books, pure epic fantasy albeit with some influences from real life locations, cultures and religions. This book, however, is impressively solid mix of Hair’s understanding and respect for Hinduism, the rich mythology and history of India, as well as the realities of modern life in that country today. The amount of research and care that went into this book to make it as accurate as possible must have been astounding.
Also, for a book that’s being classified by many as Young Adult, it is actually quite mature. Even though the three main protagonists are teenagers, adults will have no trouble enjoying this. David Hair doesn’t pull punches or talk down to his audience, even when it comes to the portrayal of difficult or sensitive themes in both the historical and modern-day timelines. Reflective readers will also find plenty in this book to discuss or think about.
The book is not without its flaws, though in the overall scope of things, they can be considered pretty minor. I thought the story was a little slow to take off, and generally I found the storyline with the three teens in the present to be more interesting and engaging than the storyline with Aram, Shastri, and Darya in the past, though that may be a very personal preference. Even with the very obvious love triangle thrown in, I simply found life Hair’s description of Vikram, Amanjit, and Deepika’s day-to-day lives in modern-day India much more fascinating and unique. After all, how often do I get the chance to read something like that? Whereas, the past storyline didn’t feel that different from reading historical fantasy.
All in all, if you enjoy books that are creative retellings of myths and would like to broaden your horizons beyond stories inspired by the western tradition, you definitely need to put this one on your list. The Pyre is a great opportunity to experience a story featuring diverse locations and characters, not to mention a wonderful read all around....more
It is worth noting that I listened to the audiobook version of this, whereas I read the print or ebook copy of the previous two books in the trilogy. I mention this because it probably affected my rating. For some books the reading versus listening experience can vary greatly, and this is one of those cases. But more on that later.
First, I want to start off by saying that Endsinger is a great conclusion to the series. After all that buildup in Kinslayer, I was skeptical that author Jay Kristoff could wrap it all up in one more book because there’s so much ground to cover, but he pulls it off magnificently. There’s a lot going on here. Without revealing any spoilers, this is just a taste of what we’re dealing with – 1) the Shima Imperium is in chaos, practically tearing itself apart in a civil war, 2) in the last book it was revealed that the Lotus Guild is poised to take over the empire with a secret weapon at their disposal, namely a colossal steampunk giant machine called Earthcrusher, 3) the Kage rebellion is now in shambles and it’s up to Yukiko and her storm tiger Buruu to rally and unite them, 4) somewhere out there, we know there are more of these storm tigers but getting their help would be difficult as they all seem to hate Buruu due to something awful he did in the past, so there’s that mystery to consider, 5) there’s the whole ongoing “gaijin war” happening outside of Shima, and the captured prisoners who are enslaved and subjected to the most horrific fates, 6) and finally, the biggie – Yukiko will have to deal with a major bombshell that was dropped on us in book two. Not going to say anything more than that, except what she learned about herself is a life changing event which would stay with her both emotionally and physically forever.
Then of course there are all the little side plots involving the secondary characters, like Kin and Hana and Yoshi. Everyone is focused on working towards the goal of toppling Shima’s tyrannical reign as well as the evil, blood-soaked lotus industry that drives it. I won’t lie; there’s so much to wrap up here that I was half expecting the news along the way that this series would end up being a quadrilogy. And yet somehow, impressively, Kristoff manages to tie all of this together without leaving loose threads. That in itself is pretty amazing.
There’s a lot to like in this volume. For one, we have the return of some fantastic characters, and as always the relationship dynamics make this one a great read. The story itself is enhanced by the drama of friendships and animosities between characters, the most obvious example being Yukiko’s bond with Buruu, which is one of the highlights of this series. Seriously, it’s a partnership to rival all the classic tales of interspecies friendships through the ages. And obviously, no epic saga is complete without secrets and devastating betrayals – as well as redemption. Plus, there’s also love. We mustn’t forget romance and passion, even in war. This book has all that and more.
The story, however, has a few hitches. I was poised to write about the awesome twists and turns in this novel, until I stopped to really think about that. Sure, there were several hugely significant events that happened in this novel, but could I honestly say I didn’t expect any of them? Not so much. Unlike the last book, a lot of the “surprises” in this one were actually quite predictable, even when it came to some of the major character sacrifices or deaths. I also found the pacing of the storytelling frustratingly uneven. The beginning held me rapt, to the point not even a looming bedtime could have stopped me from listening, and indeed there were several nights where I stayed up late just to get an hour or two farther in the audiobook to find out what happened. Around the middle of the book though, I lost that enthusiasm. The story here started dragging its feet, and it’s a real shame, because unfortunately I never got the momentum back after that.
Now is probably a good time to talk about why I think listening to this in audiobook format affected my experience. I believe it had nothing to do with the narration (which was brilliant) and everything to do with the writing itself. While I think that in general Jay Kristoff is a good writer and an engaging story teller, he does have a tendency to sometimes go overboard with very flowery and ornate descriptions. This has been my experience with the last two books in this series, and in some ways that has prepared me well for going into Endsinger, knowing to expect some of these rough patches and passages. In spite of this, what I didn’t anticipate was how jarring and distracting it is when this kind of purple prose was read to me through an audiobook. As beautiful and detailed as some of Kristoff’s descriptions are, sometimes they go on for far too long, breaking the flow of the story.
I don’t think the effects were so noticeable when reading the actual print books, because my eye may have naturally skimmed over these big paragraphs and walls of text without me even being aware it was happening. This is not possible to do with an audiobook; instead, the audience has no choice but to be swept up into the entire text.
A talented voice actor or actress can make a book come to life (and narrator Jennifer Ikeda certainly delivered an incredible performance in this case), but hearing the writing read aloud can also sometimes clue a reader in to parts where the author is rambling, focused too much on the irrelevant, or losing his or her grasp on the scene. It happened more times than I would have liked here. It was doubly frustrating to have to constantly skip back a minute or two every time I realized my mind had wandered while listening to a particularly long section devoted to overly embellished descriptions.
Still, this trilogy is excellent as a whole, and I have no qualms recommending it to young adults and adults alike (though make that older young adults, as even though the first book started off as more YA, I felt the series grew progressively darker and more mature with each installment). Was the conclusion absolutely epic and completely worth it, though? Yes and absolutely yes!...more
Atlanta Burns is the kind of book that takes time to percolate; after finishing the last page it had me feeling all discombobulated and I needed time to think on it for a bit. If you’re familiar with Chuck Wendig’s work then you’ll have some idea of what I’m talking about. Never let it be said that the guy ever holds his punches when he tells his stories, and you can be sure this is not your run-of-the-mill Young Adult fare.
The book’s protagonist Atlanta Burns is a high school student who no one wants to mess with. But she’s been through some traumatic stuff, and her reputation came at a high cost. However, Atlanta’s not going to let what happened to her stop her from doing the right thing, and she’s definitely not one to stand by while bullies prey on the weak and the defenseless. There are some terrible people in this world, and armed with her shotgun and the moxie to match, Atlanta is going to do whatever it takes to stop them.
Two stories make up this book, “Shotgun Gravy” and “Bait Dog”. Both are powerful, yet not easy to read. In the first, Atlanta and her new friends go up against Neo-Nazis, crooked cops and bigoted bullies. The second story sees her attempting to break up a dog fighting ring and deals with the themes of animal cruelty and abuse. Atlanta’s world is a bleak and brutal place to be, and reading about things like lynching, sexual assault, tortured puppies, kids being burned with cigarettes and such, it’s hard not to get through this book without thinking, wow, people SUCK. It made me sick sometimes, it really did.
But works like these also have a place in YA fiction. Like this quote in the book says: “Life is equal parts strange and beautiful and horrible, and we’re tossed into it without a map or an instruction guide. Poems and stories have a way of helping us make sense of things.” And that’s how I see these stories in Atlanta Burns. It might not be pleasant and it might not be comfortable, but it’s important to face some of these issues head-on and not soften the blow because it’s true – one can argue that Wendig is painting things too dark but the sad reality is the things in this book do happen, and it would be a mistake to pretend they don’t. Atlanta Burns is a book that explores difficult subject matters, and exposes them in all its ugliness so that we as readers can process it, make sense of it for ourselves.
Wendig has a message here. It’s not so surprising that he went with the Neo-Nazis as his main baddies, though this book is peppered with a lot of despicable scum-baggy types as a whole. Thing is, in any slice of society you look at there’s bound to be good folks and bad folks, but in Atlanta Burns there seems to be an overrepresentation of the bad, and if I’m to be honest, even Atlanta herself is not entirely likeable. To Wendig’s credit though, he does attempt to shine a light in the dark of this whole “things don’t get better” bleakness. In this world of bigots, bullies and corrupt cops are characters like Mrs. Lewis, Steve AKA “Chomp-Chomp” or Detective Holger who show Atlanta that things can be different.
This was a wonderful read. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t warn you against some of the shocking, horrible things that are in this book. It’s categorized as Young Adult, but definitely not typical of the genre. Calling Atlanta Burns a dark book is an understatement; it deals with some very mature themes, and even some adults may find parts of it difficult to read especially if they are sensitive to those particular subjects. I really enjoyed this book, but as always with Chuck Wendig, reader discretion is advised....more
Behold, the Young Adult sequel. This is where the real test is for me. First books of a series have the advantage of being new and shiny, and I can usually be won over by the prospect of exploring a brand new world full of fresh and interesting ideas. Second books admittedly have to work a little harder, not only because my expectations are higher now, but also because so many sequel plots invariably end up falling into a very predictable pattern.
So how does Crown of Midnight stack up? Well, in a nutshell, I can’t say it wowed me, and I probably liked it less than the first book. That being said though, I think it’s better than a lot of YA sequels, and despite the shameless rehashing of some of the same tired old tropes, there were still a couple of big surprises that kept the story entertaining.
The bottom line is, I am so done with YA romances. Girl meets boy, and if by book two they haven’t fallen in love already, this is where they will do so. Then invariably, boy will go and do something incredibly dumb – the result of a momentary lapse of judgment or just a gross failure of miscommunication – which causes girl to go ballistic on boy, throwing the entire future of their relationship in question, thereby also keeping the tension of a possible love triangle alive for just teensy bit longer. I can effortlessly name a handful of YA series that follow this pattern just off the top of my head, so I wasn’t surprised to see Crown of Midnight follow suit. Overused formulas suck. They have turned the romantic aspect into the weakest part the book. Nothing kills my enthusiasm and interest in the characters faster. And unfortunately, the book spends way too much time trying to shove the drama of Celaena and Chaol’s relationship down my throat. Maybe I’m just a bitter, jaded curmudgeon, but I just can’t find it in myself to care about such an artificial pairing.
But that’s my rant and the last of the negativity you’ll hear from me. Apart from my issues with the romance, Crown of Midnight was actually a pretty good book. Celaena has won the contest and become the king’s Champion and assassin, but instead of carrying out the king’s orders, she finds increasingly more ways to secretly fight back against his evil will, letting her intended victims go instead (ever notice how YA assassin characters actually do very little killing?) It was a relatively slow plod through the first half of the book, but once you get past this stage with its many clichés and run-of-the-mill romance, things will start to pick up.
I have to say, the plot elements in the later parts saved this book for me. The structure of the story remains somewhat predictable, but it always impresses me to see all the amazing things a writer can do while staying within a certain framework. The second half of the Crown of Midnight becomes a lot more bold and daring, which are certainly qualities I admire in a YA novel. There were a couple of unexpected developments, darker places I didn’t think the book would go. Once the pesky romance was out of the way, you started to get a lot less fluff and a lot more substance. Sarah J. Maas seriously ups her game, building up her world by weaving history and lore and magic into the story, dialing up the intrigue and mystery.
So all right then, sign me up for the third book. Despite a shaky start to this sequel, Maas has built something worthy of continuing with here, and has done some incredible things with her main character. I probably won’t hold my breath for the romantic aspect to improve, but thank goodness there’s so much more to like about this story. It’s definitely going places (literally!) and I look forward to visiting a new setting in the next installment as well as seeing the outcomes of several massive revelations....more
When I think about Young Adult books from Pyr, words that spring immediately to mind are “distinct”, “unconventional” and “unique”. I guess that’s why I’ve been counting on this book to lift me out of my YA slump. I’ve been feeling rather burned out by the love triangles, broody heroes, and paranormal/fantasy settings in this category lately, and Earth Girl looked like the perfect cure to this particular malaise.
My instincts proved correct.
The story of Earth Girl takes place in the far-flung future, narrated by eighteen-year-old Jarra. There are many names for people like her. Handicapped. Throwback. Nean. Ape. All of them mean one thing: that she is among the one in a thousand born with an immune disorder that confines her to earth. Humans have developed portal technology at this point, using it to colonize a multitude of worlds, but Jarra can’t visit any of them. If she traveled anywhere she would go into anaphylactic shock in seconds, and die if not returned immediately to earth’s atmosphere.
But even in the year 2788, humanity has its bigoted attitudes. So when the time comes to enroll in university, Jarra chooses her preferred subject History, but decides to invent a fake military background for herself to apply at a school on another planet whose class of norms who would be on earth for the first year of practical studies. Jarra is sick and tired of being looked down on for being handicapped, and she’s determined to show a bunch of stupid Exos just what an ape girl is capable of.
There is therefore nothing subtle about the social message in Earth Girl. This is a book infused with emotion and meaning. But even beyond this, there is so much more to love. While the plot may be a bit predictable at times, very little else about this novel falls prey to clichés, especially when it comes to the characters. You meet Lecturer Playdon, for example, and might immediately label him a hardball professor, bent on giving our protagonist a hard time – because adults obviously are in YA novels just to get in the way! Or take Dalmora Rostha, daughter of a rich, famous vid director. She’s totally going to be the snooty, spoiled and annoyingly fake arch nemesis in this story, am I right? Now the lascivious pair of Betas though, surely they are there just to provide comic relief, cause trouble and flunk out?
Nope, nope, and nope, wrong on all counts. This book will surprise you at every turn, and I can’t tell you how refreshing that is.
I also confess, I have another reason for loving this book. For you see, in the context of Earth Girl, Jarra’s “practical prehistory studies” is just another word for Archaeology. And I love Archaeology. While studying it and going on digs in college, I’d always entertained thoughts of future archaeologists excavating our modern cities and wondered what they would make of our civilization from the things they find. It’s like the author was reading my mind! When Jarra and her class dig up the ruins of New York, the methods and technology they use may be very different, but still the systematic methods are there and so is the culture and spirit of a dig site. World building is fantastic in terms of creating a great atmosphere.
My only quibbles are minor. The dialogue can be stunted at times, making Jarra and her friends sound and act like they are much younger than their eighteen years. Fian, the romantic interest, is probably the worst offender. Jarra also seems to be an expert at everything. A character even makes a joke about this at one point in the novel. As well, there is a tendency to tell instead of show and moments of overt info-dumping, but as many of these instances are worked into a classroom setting, they were easily forgivable. Other than that, as you can see from my rating, this book was close to perfect.
Thank you, Janet Edwards, for breathing some new life into YA for me. Earth Girl was a very enjoyable read and I’m looking forward to the next book. ...more
I really enjoyed Seriously Wicked, though feel I should also preface my review with the note that I’m probably not the intended demographic for this book. Young Adult and Teen Fiction is a genre I dip into quite frequently, but I was initially thrown off a bit by this novel’s tone and writing style which felt skewed even younger, maybe preteen (back in Grade Five and Six, we were already reading books about high schoolers, so it’s possible). It took some adjusting, but once I was able to get used to the crushes on “boy-band boys” and girls named Sparkle, I felt I could give this one a shot. And really, it was a lot of fun. If it were possible to go back in time, I probably wouldn’t hesitate a second to hand this one off to my 11 or 12-year-old self.
The story begins with an introduction to our 15-year-old protagonist Camellia Anna Stella Hendrix, whose days consist of figuring out ways to foil her adopted witch mother’s plans for world domination, running around town collecting strange and sometimes disgusting ingredients for her magical spells, and all the while trying to pass her algebra test and not get distracted by the cute new boy in town. However, the witch Sarmine’s latest plot to take over the world by harnessing the power of a dying phoenix on the night of the big Halloween dance might complicate matters slightly.
Actually, scratch that. Matters are complicated by A LOT when Sarmine’s failed demon summoning session ends with the demon taking over the body of Devon, the aforementioned cute new boy in town. Now on top of not flunking algebra, Cam has to worry about getting the demon out of Devon and preventing the school getting destroyed. Can things get any worse? Well, yes, yes they can. Hunting down hidden phoenixes and chasing after demon-possessed boys is just the beginning.
As you can probably tell from its description and cover, Seriously Wicked is a fun, quirky book – emphasis on the quirky. Like I said, the story is probably geared more towards preteens or young teens, which might account for some of the silliness. It’s a very lighthearted and upbeat book, which means it’s probably good for providing some cheerful, innocent entertainment for folks of all ages. Its lightness and YA designation notwithstanding, the story actually has a lot of complexity, quite a few not-very-obvious twists and turns, as well as many instances of Cam finding very creative and outside-the-box solutions to her problems. Readers will adore Cam, whose quick thinking and determination can help get her out of any difficult situation, from dealing with high school mean girl cliques to procuring a source of goat’s blood for Sarmine’s spells.
My final verdict is, if you’re an older teen or adult looking for more age-appropriate reading, Seriously Wicked probably will feel too immature for you. However, yours truly did her best to put herself in a middle-grader’s shoes and was still able to find plenty to like about the book. Those curious about Tina Connolly’s work but aren’t into Children’s or YA fiction could probably check out her Ironskin series which is said to be quite good, and having read the second book Copperhead I can attest to that. If you don’t mind a cute, charming read that clocks out at just a tad over 200 pages though (so it’s also very quick), give this one a go....more
When I finished Storm Siren, I was speechless. If I am correct about what the ending implies, I just could not believe the story had the audacity and boldness to say, “Oh YES indeedy, I am going to go there!” And honestly, it’s refreshing whenever a Young Adult novel surprises me. I like unpredictability especially when it comes to my YA, and weird as this may sound, I admit I do get a little thrill in my heart whenever I get completely blindsided.
It was, however, a journey to get to that point. One of the reasons why I think Storm Siren will be a very successful book is because it mixes the familiar with the new. Yes, we have some unexpected plot twists and bombshells, an incredible world with a rich magic system, and a heroine with a unique superpower. But balanced with this is also a novel that feels distinctly like it belongs in this genre, with archetypal characters and the usual tropes of YA. Despite this, I believe YA readers will feel comfortable with it and love it for what it is.
The book opens with our protagonist, a seventeen-year-old Elemental girl named Nym, facing her fifteenth sell as a slave. An unfortunate incident triggers her storm-summoning powers while she is on the auction block, resulting in chaos and panic. After passing out, Nym wakes up inexplicably in a luxurious bedroom in a mansion, and is informed that she has been purchased by Adora, the rich and influential noblewoman and court advisor to the king of Faelen.
Throughout this entire novel, we are told that Nym is special. This is practically thrust into our faces the entire time, from the fact that she shouldn’t even exist, since Elementals are all supposed to be only born male, to her role as the only person who can save Faelen in the war against the neighboring kingdom of Bron. But Nym isn’t the perfect savior either. She’s reluctant to use her powers even in defense of her friends due to her inability to control the storm. She has also already caused no small number of deaths in her life, albeit accidentally, and hates the idea of killing more people even if they are the enemy.
Storm Siren features a great story, encompassing a lot of political intrigue and epic battles. The story itself is definitely a winner. But that isn’t to say it couldn’t have been stronger, and perhaps it is a credit to the book and author that my only issue was that I always felt like wanting more.
I mentioned the world and the magic earlier in this review, for example. When Nym is sent to train with a tutor to hone her Elemental abilities, her classmate as it were is a boy named Colin who is a Terrene, someone from his land who can manipulate the earth and stone. Terrenes are also always born as twins, with one twin having abilities and the other not. Apparently, there are even more “brands” of magic users in this world, each with their own specific types of powers and presumably interesting facts about their backgrounds. I mean, this stuff is great! It’s world-building gold. Unfortunately, we just don’t get to learn much about them at all. This is possibly due to limitations like book length or the fact the author couldn’t work those details into the plot, but I sometimes also felt like she may have been trying to put too much into her story.
I also think more emphasis could have been placed on supporting characters. We only have a total of about five characters we really get to know, and I found Breck and Eogan interesting but a few others were quite superficial, like Adora the classic cold villain or Colin with the heart of gold and a personality of a golden retriever puppy. I thought some of the other characters of the court, like the king and a couple of visiting nobles and a princess could have been developed more as well, since relatively they weren’t given much attention but they all had pivotal roles to play by the end of the novel. It would have given the politics and the brewing war between the different kingdoms that extra oomph, and perhaps made things less confusing.
Like I said, I wanted more – but I’m also the kind of person who constantly asks questions when I’m reading, especially when it comes to a book’s world and lore. Did I need all this information to enjoy the story? No, the story itself is solid, even though I felt more world building could have enhanced it. Just when I thought for sure I had everything nailed down, just when I figured it was all going to end the same neat and tidy way that all YA books do, the last few chapters with the final showdown threw me for a loop. I learned that Mary Weber is someone who is not afraid to do things with her characters, even if it means shock and heartbreak to the reader. And I just have to admire and raise my glass to that.
The issues I mentioned notwithstanding, I did have a good time with this book. It started out like the YA novel it’s meant to be – feels like YA, reads like YA – but then went and gave me a surprise at the end. So ultimately I got exactly what I expected, plus a bit more as a bonus! 3.5 to 4 stars from me....more
I admit The Wrath and the Dawn wasn’t initially a book I was drawn to, but as time went by, the concept started to grow on me. I still would have preferred a stronger fantasy component, but its hook – the fact that its story is inspired by A Thousand and One Nights – became more intriguing the longer I thought about it.
The book introduces us to sixteen-year-old Shahrzad, getting ready for her marriage to Khalid, the Caliph of Khorasan. It’s a sad affair for her family, who all believe it will be the last time any of them will see Shazi alive. Everyone says that young Khalid is a monster, for what kind of man would take a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise the next day? Shazi, however, had volunteered herself for this, and she has a plan (arguable, but more about that later). Not long ago, her own best friend was taken and killed by the Caliph. Now Shazi is determined to find out why Shiva and all those other young girls had to die, and she won’t stop until she gets her revenge.
Things are not as they seem, though. Shazi may have escaped death for a day by captivating Khalid with a story, cleverly withholding the ending by the time dawn arrives, forcing the Caliph to put off her execution in order to find out what happens. The more time she spends with the boy king, however, the more she realizes he is not the monster everyone made him out to be. Still, he did kill all those women, and the reason for that is a closely guarded secret that no seems to know or want to talk about. While seeking answers, Shazi finds herself slowly drawn to Khalid and even begins to fall for him. But when her first love Tariq learns of her marriage to the Caliph and comes riding to her rescue, Shazi will have to make a choice.
I found this book to be one part romance, and one part A Big Question. The former is relatively straight forward; Shazi marries Khalid, realizes that he’s actually not that bad, the two fall in love. It happens very quickly, almost too quickly for my tastes. Here’s another Young Adult novel, where in its eagerness to get its two lovers together, we lose out on a lot of the emotional layers that make the relationship convincing. And how was Shazi supposed to take revenge on the Caliph after marrying him anyway? She didn’t even really try. Her half-baked plan didn’t seem to go much farther beyond enticing him with stories (and I do wish she had been able to tell more of them), so all I can see is the instalove being a decision of convenience. Thing is though, I could easily look past this in favor of what I really felt was the most interesting aspect of the whole book.
Enter the big question: Why did Khalid kill Shazi’s best friend Shiva and all those other wives of his? That’s the mystery that really caught my interest and kept me reading, and it was treated in the exact opposite way as the romance, an intricate puzzle that slowly unravels. For that I was very happy, and I liked how the author took the time to make the answers worth it.
I was also most impressed with Shazi’s character above any of the others. I liked that she had such class and dignity, but also a strong personality that wouldn’t stop her from teaching a lesson to someone who shows her disrespect. She’s also truly fearless, as evidenced by the calm and quiet way she decided to volunteer to marry the Caliph knowing very well it could mean her death, and also by a scene where she strikes out at an attacker even when she very literally had a blade to her throat.
There was really one factor about the writing that made me stumble. Five words: Attack of the purple prose.
“But the thought that she might lie to him – that those eyes, with their unpredictable onslaught of colors, flashing blue one instant and green the next, only to paint his world gold with the bright sound of her laughter…”
Occasionally there will be a glaring overkill of these flowery phrases or paragraphs. I think it’s pretty common with relatively new authors who are also extremely talented writers though, who maybe just need to know when to dial it back a little.
Still, on the whole I do think Renée Ahdieh writes beautifully and has a bright writing career ahead of her. While it may not be perfect, The Wrath and the Dawn impressed me and so I’m on board to see what happens next....more
Few subsequent installments in a Young Adult series have lived up to the bar set by their first books, so color me impressed by the way Heir of Fire has managed to do this while at the same time helping me get over the bad taste that Crown of Midnight left in my mouth.
This is going to be a difficult review to write without stomping all over spoiler territory for the previous books, but I’ll do my best not to divulge anything beyond what’s already in the book’s description. So much has happened in the series since the beginning. We last left Celaena on a ship bound for Wendlyn, sent there by her former lover and captain of the King’s Guard Chaol Westfall. Significant events as of late have also marked Wendlyn as her destination for answers to her past, and a way to thwart the King of Adarlan’s nefarious plans.
Not only has Heir of Fire sparked my enthusiasm to follow Celaena on her adventures again, it’s also now my favorite book of this series. I noted as well that this third book was remarkably light on relationship drama and all that bullshit. Coincidence? Probably not. The incessant shoving of an unimaginative, hackneyed romantic side-plot down my throat in Crown of Midnight was what almost made me lose my patience with that last book. It’s a welcome change to be somewhat free of that stuff this time around, and I’m glad Heir of Fire switched gears to focus on more action and rigorous story-development.
Of course, there were a few close calls with Rowan Whitethorn, introduced here as the warrior tasked by the Fae-Queen Maeve to train and guide Celaena to control her magic, but Celaena thankfully manages to remember that the remains of her poor and battered broken heart still technically belongs to someone else. I honestly thought Rowan would be yet another blip in the long line of male-mentors-to-YA-female-protagonists, but rescued from being labeled as yet another possible love interest (boring!), he actually ends up becoming a formidable mentor, ally, and friend to Celaena (much more interesting!) Getting to that point was also quite the journey, their interactions punctuated by ups and downs, but then some of the strongest and most loyal partnerships are forged in this manner.
Back in Adarlan we also have a couple storylines threaded with mystery and intrigue, as Chaol does some sleuthing and uncovers several important revelations about Aedion, the newly arrived general at the royal court. Meanwhile, Prince Dorian struggles with his own secret, one that could cost him his life if his father the king ever found out about it. He strikes up a friendship and later a romance with a palace healer who tries to help him. It would cheapen the experience to give way any more detail than that, but suffice to say, both Chaol and Dorian’s storylines ended up converging in a shocking, gut wrenching climax that seriously knocked me for a loop. Looks like things in this series has started moving away from the predictable throwaway elements, and is instead focusing on working in bolder and weightier developments that might actually cause major ripples further down the road.
It also wouldn’t be right to talk about this book without mentioning the Manon Blackbeak, another character who makes her first appearance in Heir of Fire. The King of Adarlan’s latest plans for domination involve Manon and her people, the wyvern-riding witches. Vicious, bloodthirsty and completely determined to prove herself as the most capable Wing Leader, Manon became an instant favorite, despite her role thus far as an accessory to a tyrant. I loved the side story in here of how she ended up with her wyvern – kind of like How to Train Your Dragon, except considerably less heartwarming and with 500% more brutality. But the bond between rider and mount is well-written and convincing, and the circumstances behind how Manon actually ended up with her wyvern made for an amazing sequence, and it’s one of my favorite scenes in the book.
This one’s much longer book than its two predecessors, but almost everything in the story was important, with hardly any dithering around. It’s a step up from both Throne of Glass and Crown of Midnight, dealing with heavier and more developed themes. We also go deeper into each character, with the new players like Rowan, Aedion and Manon getting the introductions they deserve, and even familiar characters like Celaena, Chaol and Dorian getting much love and attention from the author when it comes to building up their stories and personalities. So whaddya know, looks like a series can indeed mature with time and subsequent novels, and Heir of Fire is exemplary....more
Ruin and Rising was good, but perhaps it was just good…enough? I sat on this review for several weeks trying to gather my thoughts about this book hoping to figure out exactly how I feel about it. And in the end, I finally realized why I was so conflicted. I liked this book – and heck, up to now this series has been one of my YA favorites – but as badly was I wanted this to be the grand finale, I just couldn’t convince myself to love it.
As you would recall, Siege and Storm had the unmistakable feel of a second installment within a trilogy, with our protagonists experiencing a momentary setback. Last we saw Alina, she was in pretty bad shape, having lost her powers as the Sun Summoner. She and Mal have retreated underground with their allies, surrendering themselves to the power of the Apparat and his band of zealots who worship Alina as a Saint. But while Alina may be weakened, she is far from broken. Her mission remains the same: to capture and secure the third amplifier, the elusive firebird that would be her key to defeating the Darkling thus freeing Ravka from his iron grasp.
In truth, I had my reservations from the very beginning. The first couple of chapters almost drove me to return the book. Looking back, these were so clearly “transition” scenes that served no other purpose than to link book two with book three. As an antagonist, the Apparat was almost a non-entity, used to accomplish what was required, and then quickly forgotten. I just wanted this obligatory intro done and over with as quickly and painlessly as possible, and fortunately and unfortunately, it seemed Leigh Bardugo had the same idea. We always knew Alina’s goal was to hunt the firebird, and this brief little romp through the tunnels and caves felt like nothing more than a throwaway distraction.
Thankfully, we soon get back on the right track. We meet up with Nikolai, the outlaw prince of lovable arrogance and smart-assery, and now we can finally ask the really important questions. How are they going to go up against the Darkling? And what would a future Ravka look like if they succeed? Alina has some difficult decisions before her. What is she going to choose? Or rather, ugh, WHO is she going to choose?
In some ways, I feel validated. I still love YA, but not long ago, I told myself I can’t read them for their romances anymore. And I’m a much happier person for it. Enjoying a novel mainly for its story and characters is how I’ve come to approach YA, because if you rely on the outcome of a relationship to satisfy you, you’re bound to be disappointed. Time after time after time, predictability and tired clichés have ruined YA romances for me, and I’ve found it much easier now to just NOT CARE. It also helps that I’ve never really felt much connection to the men in Alina’s life. I’ve failed for three books to see the Darkling’s appeal. And Mal was ruined for me in Siege and Storm (you can’t get stinking drunk and kiss another girl and expect bygones to be bygones, Mal – you only get one chance with me). Nikolai was perhaps the most interesting and had the best personality out of everyone, and that told me right there he was obviously all wrong for Alina, so I never took his role as a suitor seriously.
I’m not going to say what happens, naturally. But I will say Bardugo took the “safe” route. Which was pretty much what I expected, so I’m actually not too upset with the ending. I’ve come to accept the status quo in YA fiction, and it hadn’t even occurred to me that this series could end any other way. It’s entirely possible I would have rated this book higher if it had been a bit bolder and strayed from conventions, but I’m also satisfied if not entirely blown away. And if this had been the author’s plan from the start, I applaud her for sticking to her guns and telling the story she wanted to tell. Everyone deserves their happily-ever-after, and Alina got the one perfect for her which is all that matters.
I’d still recommend this series. It became increasing more predictable as the story progressed with each installment, to the point where there were really no surprises left for me by book three, but it’s an entertaining trilogy as a whole. I wish it had ended with less tepidness considering the incredibly strong start that was Shadow and Bone, but I have to say it’s worth experiencing from beginning to end....more
Horror in Young Adult fiction is tricky territory, so whenever I see a novel getting some buzz, I can’t help but take notice. Shutter ended up surprising me. While it probably wasn’t the book I was expecting, there’s absolutely no denying that Courtney Alameda has delivered a high-octane read that’s at once superbly written and full of interesting new ideas. This is the first YA novel in months to stand out for me. That’s not to say there weren’t a few areas that I thought could have used improvement, but I’m impressed especially given how this is the author’s debut.
Shutter introduces us to Micheline Helsing – yes, she is indeed a descendent of that Helsing – a tetrachromat girl whose ability allows her to identify different types of undead by the color of their auras they give off. Her family along with other such illustrious lineages like the Stokers and Drakes have always sworn to hunt and destroy monsters, and in time their organization has grown to occupy an entire island off the coast of San Francisco, complete with itsown medical and research buildings, training yards, and other such facilities. This means that besides her powers, Micheline and her pals are also armed with state-of-the-art monster hunting tech and equipment, all the better to do their jobs. Mundane firearms are usually enough to bring down the corporeal baddies, but dealing with the spiritual undead sometimes requires a bit more finesse.
As such, Micheline never goes anywhere without her camera, her weapon of choice when it comes to fighting ghosts. By capturing their “ghostlight” on film, she can steal their energy bit by bit until they are gone for good. Until now, her trusty SLR has never failed her. But then a run-in with a particularly nasty entity leaves her and her team cursed and marked by soulchains, and Micheline has seven days to figure out how to exorcise the entity or else they will all die. With her relationship with her father already on the rocks since the deaths of her mother and brothers, Micheline is forced to go on the run in order to save herself and her friends.
One of the favorite aspects about this book is how seamlessly Alameda has managed to incorporate the Reapers into the modern world. With the Helsings being in the open and publicly known as the go-to guys for all your ghost and monster problems, we avoid the kinds of pesky problems that arise when authors try to construct a believable scenario around a secret society. But while I am sold on the Reapers and their place in the world, I also thought the book stumbled on providing some of the finer details. Take the mechanics behind the use of mirrors and camera lenses to exorcise ghosts, for example. It scores major points with me for being a new and innovative idea, but at the same time the explanation behind the process is rather touch-and-go. To be fair, I do tend to feel this way about a lot of concepts in YA novels, and I can be excessively critical when it comes to world-building elements. I wish the camera-as-a-weapon idea had been more robust and better developed (no pun intended), especially since it so central to the book, but I was also fine for the most part just going along with it.
However, when it comes to the writing, I have nothing but good things to say. It’s hard to believe this is Courtney Alameda’s first novel. Her writing style is wonderful and easy on the eyes, and she keeps such a fine consistency on her character’s voice as well as pacing behind her storytelling, it honestly led me to believe she’s been doing this for ages. Another observation is that despite its categorization, I wouldn’t exactly describe Shutter as horror. Generous amounts of blood, gore and guts aside, there’s simply none of that atmosphere behind it, though I don’t doubt Alameda could have managed it if she wanted to. There are definitely traces of Horror elements in the plot, but quite simply, I got the feeling she was more interested in telling an action-thriller, and she certainly succeeded in that. Sure, there are parts that are predictable (mainly who the big bad entity was, as well as the identity of the mastermind pulling the strings behind the scenes), but I could not spot any lulls or breaks that hindered the flow of the story.
There are things I wish could have been different – Micheline’s character, for example, is the typical YA heroine ruled by emotional impulses, who leaps into dangerous situations without thinking about the consequences and insists on taking matters into her own hands even though she makes a bigger mess of things in the end. Not long ago, I also read an insightful guest post by another author about friendships between strong female characters, and ever since then I have become more aware of how many YA female protagonists are kickass, smart-talking girls who are inevitably surrounded by only male companions, with other girls in the story only serving as rivals or someone getting in the way and/or someone for the heroine to protect. I really think this trend has to change. To its credit, at least this book had a romantic side plot that was not convoluted or poisoned by a love triangle or any such nonsense, and the relationships between the characters, particularly the one between Micheline and her father, reached me on a deeper level.
The strengths, most notably the strong writing and the fast-paced, action-oriented plot, overcame all the minor weaknesses and made reading this novel worth it, though. Sure to appeal to fans of supernatural/horror themed TV shows and books, you won’t regret picking this one up....more
Jarra has carried out a successful rescue mission, saved lives at the risk of losing her own, and received the Earth Star and the highest honor of the Artemis medal. But still our protagonist finds herself defined by her disability.
I’d been eagerly waiting to read this book ever since I read Earth Girl. Earth Star is the sequel, picking up right where the first book left off. Things have pretty much returned to normal after the events of the unprecedented solar storm that put the New York dig site and Jarra in the spotlight. The whole world knows she’s Handicapped now, that she is among one in a thousand born with an immune system disorder that confines her to earth. But while most of her classmates have come to terms with learning her secret, not everyone has been so accepting of Jarra.
I continue to enjoy this series for its ability to engage as well as its departures from the usual YA conventions. Unsurprisingly, these books probably won’t be for everyone, though I do wish more people knew about them. Not only is there an important message, I also love the universe Janet Edwards has created, and here she expands the idea further by throwing humanity a curveball – the possibility of aliens on Earth’s doorstep. When the military discovers a strange sphere in orbit, the planet goes into high alert and Jarra is drafted to help.
You would think that the arrival of an extraterrestrial presence might bring humankind together, but that isn’t the case. The book continues the theme of showing how deep-rooted bigotry and intolerance can be, even though Jarra has proven herself to be as capable as any Norm time and time again. The prejudice against the Handicapped has been ingrained in this society for generations, and Earth has become a second-class planet, with those who have the immune disorder somehow seen as less than human.
But there is hope yet. There are plenty of those who don’t share those close-minded views. Jarra and her boyfriend Fian have gotten much closer since the first book; the two have pledged their commitment to each other and Fian continues to be Jarra’s strongest and most loyal supporter. But like I said, we aren’t going to be treated to the same old tropes here, so Jarra and Fian’s relationship also has a completely different dynamic than your typical YA novel. I wouldn’t recommend going into these books expecting a strong romance plot. It’s just not that kind of book, and I’m cool with that. Still, that doesn’t mean that it is completely devoid of romantic tension. A private person by nature, Jarra still struggles with opening up to Fian, and Fian comes across as almost insecure in his desperation to get through to her. His role feels slightly diminished here, but then I suppose the force of Jarra’s personality has a way of overshadowing those around her.
For make no mistake, these books are all about Jarra’s journey, her own exceptional fight against adversity, from without and within. But I also like the fact she is not painted as the invincible hero. Reviewers including myself have noted in the first book that her character seems to be an expert at everything and know all the answers. In spite of that, I see now that she has her fears and doubts. The message is clear: as a Handicapped, Jarra is nevertheless able to do everything that a Norm can do, but it works both ways. She’s also just as liable to fall victim to her own anxieties and lose confidence in herself, just like everyone else. After all, she’s only human. Like all of us. ...more
I think Masks slipped under a lot of radars last year, and even as someone who read the book, I really had no idea what a strong impression it made on me until the sequel Shadows showed up and I found myself wanting to dive right in. I do remember being struck by the richness of the world and magic, and realized that I was very much looking forward to continuing the story of protagonist Mara Holdfast.
One thing I should mention is that while nothing about these books ostensibly scream Young Adult (at least not on the surface – it’s not really obvious from the cover, not published under a YA imprint, and not mentioned in the description), this really does read like a YA series. It’s more than just the age of the protagonist, who is fifteen years old in Shadows and for most of Masks; thematically and stylistically, the way it was written also made me want to categorize the first book as a YA, and book two only furthered my belief. This is neither good nor bad. However, I just think readers going in should be aware of it since it may affect expectations. I personally chose to view and rate this one as YA.
Last we saw her in Masks, Mara had escaped from the mining camps where the tyrannical Autarch sends all those who are labeled traitors and not fit to be part of society. She ends up back at the system of secret coastal caves where a group of underground rebels calling themselves the unMasked Army have made their home. The rebels’ leader has asked Mara to use her gifts to craft special masks for them, which would hide the user’s intent from the Autarch and his Watchers, but untrained and inexperienced with her magic, Mara is frustrated when her attempts to do so fail.
At the same time, a mysterious young man washes up on shore, claiming to be a scout from Korellia, a city long thought to have been lost, sunk beneath the seas. But Chell is even more than he appears, and though the unmasked Army remain wary of him, they allow him to accompany Mara on a dangerous mission back into the city in the hopes of reaching Mara’s father, the Autarch’s Master Maskmaker, in order to glean information about the secrets of his trade.
Like most second books in a dystopian series, this is the point where the danger and desperation starts to really come to the forefront and can be keenly felt by the reader. The Autarch’s forces continue to close in, pushing Mara and her allies to make riskier decisions, and sometimes those decisions lead to disaster. Mara is already an unstable vessel of magic, trying to learn how to handle her one-of-a-kind powers, and just when the slightest spark can set her abilities off, something akin to a mega-ton explosion happens in her life. It was a twist that was wholly unexpected to me, one that I didn’t think the author would carry through, but in retrospect I shouldn’t really have been that surprised. In both Masks and now in Shadows, the story has taken some pretty dark turns, and the emotional trauma transforms Mara into an uncontrollable element, adding unpredictability to her powers which are already little understood.
Mara also grows as a character, in ways that are more than just about her magic. The fact that she is played up to be the most powerful person in Aygrima is still a bit vexing, but it’s also clear from the events in this book that she is far from perfect. To put it simply, some of the decisions she makes are impulsive, inconsiderate, embarrassing, and in several cases, downright dumb. This, however, is not always a negative. Her bad choices indicate vulnerability in her character, showing that despite her staggering power, she’s still just a teenage girl who is prone to mistakes, not to mention she can barely control her gifts. I think it humanizes her and makes her less exasperating than she was in the first book where it almost felt like she could do no wrong.
There are definitely more high points than low points in this novel, though there are still a couple weaknesses I should mention. Despite viewing Masks as YA, I did note that a wider audience can probably appreciate it too, since the nature of the fantasy setting and the characters that E.C. Blake has created sets the book apart. Shadows, however, feels distinctly more YA, if that is a comparison I can make. One example is a not-so-subtle hint of a love triangle which manifests itself into a full-blown LOVE SQUARE within the first 40 pages. It eventually resolves itself, and I won’t spoil how, since that in itself is a pretty interesting side-plot. However, it did bug me a little to see romantic drama worm its way into the picture so soon in the story, when there’s so much else that’s more important in Mara’s life. There are also some very dramatic, very exciting developments in this book, but also large chunks of it that felt drawn out, most of it boiling down to Mara being on the run.
But as you can see, I really enjoyed this for the most part, especially if I’m looking at it as a YA novel. I probably still liked Masks a little more, if I had to compare the two books in the series so far, but Shadows was a worthy sequel and promises to bring even more thrills and delights in the next installment. A 3.5 to 4 star read for me....more
I’m a mythology buff, so naturally I became drawn to Kendare Blake’s Goddess War series. The first book introduced us to the concept that the Old Gods of Greek Mythology have always existed, and that well-known deities such as Athena and Hermes have lived among us since time immemorial. But all of a sudden, the gods are losing their immortality, dying slowly in the most bizarre and most horrific ways. All eyes turn to Kincade, New York, home of Cassandra of Troy…or the reincarnated version of her, anyway. As the gods take sides and prepare for war, the psychic teen may hold the key to everything.
After reading the first book, I could say I enjoyed it unequivocally. This second book, however, left me with mixed feelings.
Issue 1: Pacing. It falls on the slower side, especially at the beginning. Looking back, the biggest criticism I had with Antigoddess was that it ended with absolutely nothing resolved, closing with a cliffhanger of sorts. Happily, Mortal Gods picks up right where it left off, but then spends an excessive amount of time just trying to build back up to the level of suspense and excitement that we experienced right at the end of book one.
Issue 2: A book like Mortal Gods that has parts taking place in far flung and exotic locations across the globe should feel vast, epic, HUGE. At times, I sense this vibe struggling to come through in the narrative, but it never quite manages it. I love Kendare Blake’s writing style and she generally does a great job with her world-building, but for some reason the scenes that took place in the jungles of Malaysia or the outback of Australia felt rushed and glossed over.
On the other hand, she seems to do a much better job with fantasy settings. I adored the scenes that took place in Hades’ Underworld or at Mount Olympus, they were amazing.
Issue 3: The character of Cassandra. What happened? Granted, her life has been turned upside down and she’s experienced a lot of terrible things, including the loss of someone she loved deeply. All these events have shaped her, and while she’s a much deeper and well-rounded character now, she has also transformed into a downright bratty kid. Her anger and impulsiveness makes her say and do dumb things, and that makes it really hard to sympathize with her.
The final thing I want to talk about isn’t really an issue, but might be something to consider if you’re thinking of picking up this series. This is a Young Adult novel and it really shows. Most of the main characters are teens, including the incarnations of the Greek Gods, and there’s practically no adult presence. For some readers, this is of little to no importance. For me, it does take away some of the realism and immersion. If you can buy (or don’t care) that a teen can go jetsetting across the world, miss school and disappear for days on end without her parents even getting a tiny bit suspicious – or alternatively, they’re actually okay with it – then you shouldn’t have a problem at all.
I don’t want this review to sound too harsh though, because I did have a good time with Mortal Gods. My favorite part of it is still the unique and interesting take on the Greek Gods, and I really enjoyed how certain snippets of the story would play out like a very loose version of the Iliad, particularly when it involved the relationships between characters.
Bottom line: a pretty good book and sequel, though I still liked the first book better. I’m looking forward to the next one....more
This was a refreshing read that stood out from all the steampunk I've been chomping through lately. I used to think this sub-genre and setting wasn'tThis was a refreshing read that stood out from all the steampunk I've been chomping through lately. I used to think this sub-genre and setting wasn't for me, but that was probably before I realized how few steampunk books I've read actually incorporate that "steampunkness" so fully and completely as this book does. And it's not just about the cool airships and armor and the wicked chainsaw katanas either (though all those things are indeed cool and wicked). The steampunk aspect is ubiquitous and feels like a living, breathing part of the story, going beyond descriptions of the mechanisms to actually touch upon the relationship it has with the whole society and industry.
But enough about the steampunk, because as brilliant as that is, it's only one of the many reasons why I loved this book. I think the kicker is the feudal Japanese-inspired world as well as the author's version on its myths and legends. In the center stage of Stormdancer is the arashitora, a "storm tiger" or griffin, which the characters Yukiko and the members of her father's hunting team are tasked to capture for Shima's megalomaniacal Shogun. However, the expedition is disrupted by a great tempest before they could bring one home, leaving Yukiko stranded and alone with one of the mythological creatures, and a furious one at that.
At is heart, the story is mainly about the friendship that develops between Yukiko and the arashitora Buruu, an unlikely pair who learns to trust and love one another after facing challenges together. While that's not exactly breaking new ground, I still have to say there were a few surprises in the plot that kept things interesting. Once again, it's the world that really pulled me in, and along with that the anticipation of seeing how the characters will prevail against the Shogun and his Lotus Guild. For a novel targeted at young adults, I am more than impressed with the whole package.
I suppose the only thing that gave me pause was the prose. I am torn when it comes to this, because so much of the writing was given to the world building, and surely no one can accuse the author of skimping on the descriptive details! The downside of this, however, was, well...no one can accuse the author of skimping on the descriptive details...
In general, I found the prose needed getting used to, and also could have done with much less embellishment. But the book's penchant to expound on everything was also both its strongest and weakest point. It may be the reason for its slow-ish start, but also gave life to in my opinion the best and most amazing scene in the whole book, which was the initial hunt in the storm at about a quarter of the way in. There's pretty much no way you can read those vivid chapters and not be hooked afterward! All in all, a great book, and nothing's going to keep me away from the next one.
Once in a while, a great book like Shadow and Bone will come along and remind me of why I read YA -- and why overlooking this category of fiction would be a big mistake. It's another one of those titles which had hung around on my to-read list for much too long, and now I wish I'd listened to the glowing reviews and picked it up sooner. It has everything I look for in a YA novel: a likeable protagonist, a sweet and believable romance that's not insta-love, and a pace for storytelling that's just perfect.
At the beginning of the book, we are introduced to a girl and a boy, two orphans who became friends with each other when a kind nobleman took them in. Years later, both Alina and Mal have ended up in the army and are preparing to cross the Fold, a wasteland of darkness where savage creatures called Volcra lurk, ready to swoop down on any unsuspecting travelers. Well, of course they get attacked by Volcra during the crossing. Without understanding how, Alina manages to save the life of her best friend Mal by unleashing a brilliant flash of light as bright as the sun, driving away the creatures.
Anyway, this book doesn't waste time getting to the meat of the story. It turns out Alina is one of the Grisha, and a special one at that. Grisha are what you would call the sorcerers of this world, except I would say that their magic is more like a science -- acts of magic are actually the Grisha manipulating and altering matter at its most basic level. It's an interesting system, and I also find it fascinating that the Grisha have their own social structure, politics and culture. When it is discovered that Alina is the Sun Summoner with the power to control light, she is whisked away to learn the ways of the Grisha, and I had the pleasure of learning all about their society through her eyes.
The world of Shadow and Bone has a sort-of Russian flavor, and yes, the way of the Grisha court has some of your usual YA trappings. Normally, I'd be calling for more world building and further expansion into the book's ideas, but I'm actually quite amazed and how much it was able to convey. Especially when you consider how this was a relatively short novel and a really quick read. The story finds its momentum early on and it just keeps going like that all the way to the end, and I don't think I would have traded that for anything. Everything you need to know is there, and I liked how we don't get any unnecessary detail or lengthy exposition weighing things down.
But it's the characters that made this book such a joy to read. Alina's a tough girl, and even though she can get a tad too sentimental at times, she's proven herself to be quite capable. Her romance with Mal actually feels natural, and I liked the fact that it was the result of a long-term friendship that grew deeper over time. It makes their relationship more genuine, and I could better understand their intense feelings for each other. Since finding a YA romance that I actually like is quite rare for me, it makes a big impression whenever it does happen.
It also helps that this book was exactly what I needed at time. If you're ever in the mood for a quick YA fantasy with a decent romance and a bit of adventure and intrigue thrown in, this will do the trick nicely. I found it very enjoyable!...more
When Angry Robot announced in the summer of 2014 that they were shutting down their Young Adult imprint Strange Chemistry, I was among the many readers saddened by the cancellation of their books and series. But thank goodness for at least the small mercies, like Danielle L. Jensen’s Malediction Trilogy being picked up by the parent company. Stolen Songbird was one of the best YA titles I read last year, and I was looking forward to continuing Cécile’s story in Hidden Huntress.
The sequel picks up shortly after the events of the first book. Cécile has recovered from her harrowing escape from Trollus, but it also means being separated from her love, the troll prince Tristan who is still trapped in the city beneath a mountain, sealed in by a witch’s curse. Determined to save Tristan, Cécile is willing to do anything – even if it means entering into a magically binding deal with the tyrant troll king, who tasks her to break them free by hunting down the elusive Anushka, the one who cast the original curse so long ago.
Meanwhile, Tristan is at his lowest point. He is shunned by his people, and only has few remaining loyal followers at his side. His power-hungry father will stop at nothing to escape their mountain prison and unleash the power of the trolls on the outside world, but Tristan is just as resolved to do all he can to stop him. Neither Tristan nor Cécile were prepared for the extent of the king’s Machiavellian cunning though, or just how far he would go with his manipulations.
On the whole, I actually thought Hidden Huntress was an even better book than its predecessor. This surprised me somewhat, considering some reviewer opinions I’ve seen expressing disappointment that Cécile and Tristan were separated for most of the story, and I thought for sure I would feel the same way. In fact, the opposite turned out to be true. In a case like this, distance apparently does make the heart grow fonder. Because of their magical bond, Cécile and Tristan are able to feel each other’s emotions more deeply than most couples even when they are far apart, creating a very intriguing dynamic. I felt too that the opportunity gave each protagonist the time they needed to fully develop as individuals, something that might not have occurred if they had been together. Tristan, for example, got his chance to really shine, occupying almost if not just as much page time as Cécile. Though I personally didn’t find his chapters as interesting as hers, his mission in Trollus was no less important, and I really appreciated how much of his personality we were able to glean from his perspective.
As much as Cécile and Tristan’s separation pained me, ultimately I believe the decision was worth the benefits to the plot. Sometimes, I find physical romance can take a back seat but the resulting novel ends up being just as satisfying. The story of Hidden Huntress is more sophisticated and even more entertaining than Stolen Songbird, placing a stronger emphasis on the bigger picture and also allowing supporting characters to play larger roles. The city of Trianon is a whole other world, but as a rising opera star following in her mother’s footsteps, Cécile has to tread just as carefully. Genevieve de Troyes was mentioned in the first book and I was very curious to finally meet this woman who has made such an impact on her daughter’s life. Let’s just say she was not what I expected.
I wouldn’t surprise me though, if readers are divided on Hidden Huntress. Danielle L. Jensen made a bold move, and it’ll pay off for some but perhaps not for others. It worked well for me for many reasons, some of which I’ve outlined above, but I also found it important that Ms. Jensen showed what would happen to her characters if they were placed under terrible pressure. Many will probably find some of Cécile’s decisions in this book frustrating, but to me they were an extension of the determined young woman we met in the first book who is loath to give up on something she believes in even if it drives her to extremes. We already had the chance to see the romance spark and develop between her and Tristan in the first book; I was glad to see that this book went further beyond giving readers more of the same, deciding instead to explore the greater mysteries. The page count is probably just a tad higher than I would have been comfortable with, but I got a lot out of it in the end, so I can’t bring myself to complain too much.
Hidden Huntress opens up the world, simply put. It felt bigger and more encompassing, upping the ante for all involved. The pull of the story was irresistible, given how so much more now rests on the success of our protagonists. Everything that the first book set us up for comes to fruition, complete with welcome twists and unexpected surprises. If nothing else, that incredible ending sure has me eager for book three....more
Stolen Songbird was my top anticipated young adult novel coming out from Strange Chemistry this year, and I have to say all the lusting and the pining has been worth it. Author Danielle L. Jensen opens up a whole new world for readers who love magic, romance, and enchanted lands.
Buried deep within the Forsaken Mountain lies Trollus, a city forgotten by time. It is said that monstrous trolls live there, bound by a witch's curse. However, on the night before Cécile de Troyes is about to embark on her journey to become a famous singer, she is kidnapped and taken to Trollus, where she discovers there is far more to what she thinks she knows about the trolls and their city. For one thing, they're not all hideous monsters. The troll prince she is supposed to marry is actually pretty good looking! But one thing the legends got right is that trolls are talented magic users -- the more pure their blood is, the stronger their ability. Even all the magic in Trollus cannot break the curse and set the trolls free, however. Cécile and Prince Tristan's union was supposed to be the key, but the plan ends up failing, leaving Cécile a prisoner in Trollus, biding her time and waiting for the perfect moment to escape.
But over the weeks, Cécile inevitably falls for Tristan. How I just loved the way their relationship developed! Instead of the usual formula of treating each other horribly but then falling head over heels in love anyway (a trope which is a big pet peeve of mine), Cécile finds out that the prince really isn't such a bad troll after all. In fact, he's secretly championing the rights of the half-bloods, who are part troll and part human, treated as nothing more than slaves and property by the arrogant pure-bloods. So while Cécile and Tristan may at each other's throats in public, it's actually all a part of a brilliant plan they've hatched up to throw off suspicion. What a delightful little twist to the usual YA romance.
The story also has just enough of that "Forbidden Love" vibe to it so that I just can't help myself. I like romances a lot more when they are hindered by outside forces rather than internal ones like misunderstandings between the lovers (Tristan and Cécile aren't completely innocent of this, but at least it was kept to a minimum) and the relationships usually emerge stronger and more compelling to me. Of course, the author also leaves their relationship mercilessly hanging in the first book, making you wonder what will become of the hero and heroine, but this meant she succeeded in building a lot of interest in these two characters.
There are also plenty of little surprises all over this book. One thing that is sort of a "twist", but not really -- and I'm sorry if I'm being vague but I think it would be best if it comes as a surprise to others the same way it did for me -- is the nature of the trolls.
It did occur to me as I was making my way through the story to wonder the creatures are called trolls in the first place. They are smart, quick, have super strength and magic powers, but apart from a few exceptions in the royal family, they appear mostly human. And that's when the author began to drop certain clues and I had one of those "AHA!" moments where I realized where she's going with all this. Well played, Ms. Jensen, well played! Like I said, I don't think it's meant to be some big twist because once you start catching the hints it becomes pretty obvious what she has in mind, but in that moment of clarity I started to get really excited about the future of this series.
In fact, Stolen Songbird is an excellent start all around, the first of a trilogy that builds a good framework and promises even bigger things to come. I would like to know what happens to Tristan and Cécile, but I'm especially pumped for more about the troll origins story. It goes without saying, I'm all in for book two!...more
I’m disappointed to say the least. Stiefvater’s Wolves of Mercy Falls was a trilogy I read a few years ago, and while it might not rank up there as one of my favorite Young Adult series of all time, it had its moments. One of the highlights was the supporting character of Isabel Culpeper who was a bit of a queen bee, plus she’s angry and bitter to boot. And yet, I found her to be a lot more interesting than the very blah protagonist of Grace Brisbane, and I was rather fond of Isabel. I was also intrigued when I found out she would be starring in her own book Sinner along with Cole St. Clair, the rock star/werewolf with whom she started a budding romance towards the end of the Mercy Falls trilogy.
Sinner begins in California, where Isabel has started her new life, going to school preparing to be a doctor while working part time at a clothing designer’s store. Cole on the other hand is trying to make a comeback to the music scene after being rehabilitated from a life of booze and drugs, by — ugh! — agreeing to be the focus of a godforsaken reality TV show, of all things. When he arrives in LA, the first thing he does is look up Isabel, hoping to rekindle what they had from their days back in Mercy Falls, Minnesota.
There’s really not much else to say about the plot. The story zips along at the speed of molasses, and for the longest time I tried to figure out what the conflict was, only to resign myself to the fact that there really isn’t one. Cole does his reality TV show thing while acting like a prima donna, and Isabel goes about her daily life putting up with his crap.
To be fair, Sinner ended up being a completely different book than I expected it to be. First of all, it probably falls more into the New Adult category instead of YA, following the characters like Isabel in their post-high school life, and werewolves or not, the themes are more contemporary rather than related to speculative fiction. It has very few paranormal elements compared to the Mercy Falls trilogy, so few that I was just barely able to label this one a fantasy.
My main issue, however, wasn’t the lack of fantasy elements or the fact that there was hardly any story. My problem was the vacuous, insufferable prat that was Cole St. Clair.
For the love of God, I don’t remember him being so annoying in the original trilogy. A big pet peeve of mine is bad boys who try oh so very hard to be a bad boy. Let’s face it, if Cole hadn’t gotten lucky and become a rock star, he would have ended up living in a cardboard box in some alley, offering to take your verbal abuse for chance at a bit of change. And who knows, he still might end up that way. He’s already washed up at this young age, reduced to dancing-bear status on an insipid reality TV show.
The sad part is, I still really like Isabel’s character, which made it doubly hard to watch her fall for this joker when all I wanted to do was scream at her to run, run away! Get as far away as you can from this idiot because God forbid if you end up marrying him he’ll end up a worthless thirty-five-year-old has-been, having pissed away his royalties on cars and parties, with no aspirations other than to be a professional layabout because working for an honest living is just sooooo lame. He’d probably let his looks and physique go too, because exercise and taking good care of one’s health is something, like, everybody does! And we all know Cole’s just too cool to go along with everyone else!
I feel kind of bad for being snarky, but it just makes me so ANGRY. I think this was my problem with the Wolves of Mercy Falls series as well. The trilogy started well enough, but things went downhill in the last book Forever when the characters suddenly developed these horribly bratty and angsty attitudes. To a certain extent you have to expect a fair dose of youthful naiveté in YA, but this whole “OMG I hate everyone and everything!” and “Adults are stupid morons and I totally know better than all of them!” kind of thinking gets a bit old, especially in Sinner when we’ve supposedly left high school far behind. Frankly, Cole’s behavior towards his parents made me sick, especially considering how by all accounts they are perfectly good, sensible people. The worst thing Cole can think of to happen to him is if he became his dad, because apparently, Cole thinks being a responsible contributor to society is boring. Go figure.
As a novel, it saddens me to say this, especially since according to her foreword it sounds like a pretty important book for the author, but Sinner felt kind of pointless. For me, it was also 300-ish pages of teeth-grinding aggravation, thanks to the big, cuddly ball of phony that was Cole. Read this if you’re fan of the Mercy Falls books because you’ll probably want to see what happened to two of the more important side characters from the trilogy. That’s what I told myself I wanted to do, and I don’t regret reading this because at least I got to follow up with Isabel, but unfortunately not even her chapters could make up for her co-star....more